Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Narrative Choices: Untrustworthy Narrators

An untrustworthy narrator is a strong foundation for suspense in mysteries and thrillers. The Girl on a Train starring Emily Blunt is an excellent adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ novel with the same title.

In both, Rachel, Megan, and Anna narrate their intersecting stories. Rachel is the least reliable of the three. The man she believes to have been the love of her life leaves her for Anna. Rachel thinks it’s because she descended into alcohol after she couldn’t conceive. The truth is something else, we learn.

Megan, first seen through Rachel’s eyes, seems to live a charmed life in which her husband adores her. The truth is something else. In flashbacks and dialogue, especially with her therapist, we learn Megan is more chimera, an illusion invented from Rachel’s needs.

Anna should be seen as completely untrustworthy immediately. She was John and Rachel’s realtor; she is now the wife of Tom, Rachel’s ex-husband; she has given Tom a daughter, something Rachel longed to do. An adulterer is traditionally and classically suspect as adultery requires a level of dishonesty. Worse, Anna is complicit in malice perpetrated by Tom.

Unraveling the stories to find the truth is the delight in Hawkins’ thriller.

Reading Challenge:

Read Paula Hawkins’ novel and the film adaptation.

Writing Challenge:

Make a list of character traits that prove who is trustworthy and who is not.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Literary Inference and Negan’s Victim in The Walking Dead

by Guest Blogger, Megan McClendon

I'll start by assuring readers there will be no spoilers from either the comic series or from the upcoming Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead (TWD), but (Warning!) for those not yet caught up on previously aired episodes from Season 6 and before, you may not want to read on.

For avid fans of the TWD television series, the frustrations that accompany each mid-season and season finale may be anticipated, expected even, but that doesn’t mean they grow any less frustrating, accustomed as I may be to the inevitable cliffhanger. Who lives? Who dies? Who goes to a darker place than viewers ever imagined possible? Remember, “Look at the flowers, Lizzie…”

The desire (or the desperate need, in my case) to predict what’s to come leaves viewers meticulously sorting through the evidence presented through the season’s storyline and binge watching previous seasons in hopes of identifying patterns that may allow us to infer even the smallest detail or predict the next tragic outcome.

Inference as a literary device is about drawing conclusions from evidence in the text. Likewise, the same method should be  employed to draw conclusions in TV and film. As far as TWD is concerned, fans of the show know that in the spring, showrunners left us hanging from the highest cliff yet with the new Big Bad in town, Negan, promising to “Beat the holy hell…” out of a member of our dearly beloved band of survivors.

The finale episode left watchers inches from their televisions, agog, only to watch the screen go black in front of our very eyes with a six-month wait ahead of us until the show’s return. Now, here we are. With only days to go until the Season 7 premiere, let’s take a closer look at my prediction as to who Negan’s ill-fated victim will be based on literary inference.

While showrunners have promised a departure from the storyline in the comics, they’ve also been known to toy with our emotions in the past. Despite the sound bites, the clear inference is that our hearts will break right along with Maggie as Glenn falls victim to Lucille, Negan’s souped up baseball bat and weapon of choice in the Zombie Apocalypse. Here’s the evidence to support it.

In the second half of Season 6, we saw Glenn grappling with the morality of slaying another group of survivors in their beds. [Side note: The fact that this played as an internal morality war should be a fairly good indicator of how far our protagonists have fallen.]

Glenn’s internal struggle between adhering to the loyalty he feels for his comrades and for Rick and his fears about raising a child in a world where such actions are acceptable regrettably allows us to infer that Glenn can no longer survive in this post-apocalyptic world and must hereafter exist only in our hearts and memories as the most recent moral martyr.

Indeed the source material predicts Glenn’s death, but stepping outside the universe of the comic books, the show has provided patterns and evidence for us, foreshadowing Glenn’s death as well. Essentially it comes down to one major problem with the character: Glenn is the last remaining moral compass from the original members of our group of survivors.

Photo Credit:

1) Time and again, TWD has shown us that being good equates to being dead. Such deaths are more often than not conveniently timed to pull the other characters back, if only slightly, before they lose the last shred of their humanity. We saw this with Dale in Season 1, Andrea in Season 2, Hershel in Season 4 and Reg in Season 6. As soon as a character begins to question aloud what it means to be human and what it means to be ‘walking dead,’ it’s essentially time for them to be among the latter.

2) The show is exploring the question of whether Rick and team are the good guys or the bad guys, and Glenn was just too clearly good. Taking the Grimes squad down the rabbit hole to a point where even the most loyal viewer questions whether our protagonists are inherently good or bad at this point in their journey lays the groundwork for a fabulous juxtaposition between Negan’s clan (with the addition of Rick’s group) and The Kingdom (the group that rescued Morgan and Carol).

3) New sources for morality have been introduced. Last season we saw the reintroduction of Morgan and the introduction of Jesus. Both characters, while they can see the underlying good in the people and the ends espoused by Rick and his team, question the means the Grimes’ group uses to find the safety they seek. The end of last season also portrayed a desperate Carol who would rather meet her end than go on living and killing as she had. Developing these three characters as moral compasses and a part of the seemingly still moral Kingdom community sets up Season 7 nicely for a storied battle of good vs. evil and may leave us all wondering where our beloved antiheroes will ultimately end up.

The challenge with inferences from evidence in both literature and film is you just never know whether you, as a reader or viewer, have plucked out the right tidbits, especially if the end is not yet in sight--as it surely will be on October 23rd.  As a fan of Glenn myself, I can only hope I’m inferring all the wrong things from all the wrong evidence and that the most beloved of our band of flawed protagonists lives to see yet another day. Literature, including film and television, is, after all, ambiguous, subject to multiple interpretations, but reasonable conclusions can be drawn from evidence within text, and I’ve just provided some. Let’s see what Season 7 brings, shall we?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Allusions in “For Mama Who Loved Words”

For Mama Who Loved Words

Long before your shrill panting breath ceased
Words whispered and stuttered, then died.

Frost’s ice storm should have pelted windows,
Coated trees, bent them as low as my wounded heart.
You should have ridden that tree into Spring,
Rising quick--heavenward, into Infinite Love.

Instead, on the night of your passing,
Folks kept to their calendars, their Friday night lights.
It was Dickinson’s ordinary night--except, of course,
The dying, undertaken alone--the rest of us free to come, to go
With soft footfall, stepping to the rhythms of machine and pulse

Your sights, dear Mama, an undiscovered country,
Your thoughts undisclosed, gripped first by aphasia, now death so near.
In solitude, we travel to an unknown, our place of origin,
Tennyson’s depths, beyond the bar, beyond breath, beyond touch.

May my words by Wordsworthy, drawing comfort
From this Prelude to my own passing and another beginning
Where others shall not grieve--as I do not.

My solace is in what remains, in memories
Of a woman, tiny, as I, eager to go, let myself be held
In her arms, in her silence, where she spoke of 
Love. Of gratitude. Of raw need.

In that embrace, I feel them all. I feel them still, here, now.
And in them I remember her sharp intakes of breath, the
Sound of recognition in a poet’s truth laid bare on the page.

This is her legacy, her last will and testament:
Lightning flashes upon a dark landscape
Where she is no more.

By Connye, A Daughter, October 7, 2016

Reading Challenge:

Read the hyperlinked poems to understand the allusions to works that have gone before, honed and perfected by four of poetry’s masters.

Writing Challenge:

Explain how one of the four poems alluded to in “For Mama Who Loved Words” functions.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Sully, Starring Tom Hanks, Of Course

The nation fell in love with Captain Chesley Sullenberger at first sight. Something in his eyes conveys the soul of the man, and that soul seemed then--and now--genuine, honest, responsible, and compassionate.

Sully’s voice also soothed the nation as he recounted the events on the day a U. S. Airways jet struck a large flock of Canada geese, knocking out the jet’s engines and rendering it impossible to return to airport runways. Sully judged his best option was to land the jet on the Hudson River, and he did.

The rest of us had no idea what Sully was going through behind the scenes. We didn’t know how much he cared whether all his passengers survived. We didn’t know the pressures pilots experience as investigators try to determine what happened and who’s liable. Clint Eastwood’s film titled Sully reveals what happened, including what happened in the mind of Sully.

Such an accessible and easily shared film allows for a quick lesson in tropes providing glimpses into the minds of characters. They could, for example, as Shakespeare’s protagonists do, step center-stage and speak their thoughts in a soliloquy. That’s rare, especially in the modern era when realism is in vogue. Thus, we might see characters speak their minds to a mirror, rehearsing what they might say in another setting. They might also read aloud from a diary or write notes and letters revealing their thoughts.

In Sully, Eastwood chooses flashbacks. As Sully runs, so do his thoughts, and they run to the seconds from take-off to landing in the water. As he tries to sleep, his thoughts intrude and steal his peace; the director shows us those intrusive thoughts.

The flashback is an effective tool for film. It’s used often and well in literature of all types.


Reading Challenge:

Read Sully starring Tom Hanks. You’ll like it, not only as a review of flashbacks, but also as a study in heroics without flash, crash, or dash.

Writing Challenge:

For further review, read more about the flashback here and more about soliloquies here. Choose one or both writing tasks from those earlier blog posts to complete.