Boozy Books: Dracula

Greetings, readers, and welcome to the last of our Halloween Boozy Books specials, featuring some of the best of horror literature. First, we profiled Dorian Gray and his ghastly portrait, then Dr. Frankenstein and his Creation; last week, we delved into the dichotomy of good and evil with Jekyll and Hyde, complete with Absinthe (because what kind of Halloween would it be without the Green Fairy). So, it can come as no shock that the final novel we have chosen to pair is none other than the mack daddy of vampire tales: Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Yeah…there will be no sparkling here…Just the Destructor of womanly virtue and unholy beast.

Now, in case you forgot from the Frankenstein post, Dracula is not actually the first vampire story to be published in the modern age–that honor actually belongs to Polidori, with his story “The Vampyre”–but it is arguably the most famous. In fact, Dracula effectively defined the modern vampire; even those stories that want to get away from the “monstrous” vampire and play-up the Byronic hero aspects (with varying degrees of success, mind) of the trope are using Dracula as the heart of their definition. So…ultimately Stoker is to blame for the ridiculous number of vampire movies, TV shows, comic books, novels, etc. Way to go, Stoker. We’re hitting vampire overload, you unrepentant genius!

(Note: I want more werewolves. I really quite enjoy them. But not sexy tiemz werewolves a la waaaaaay too many romance novels out there (and melodramatic TV shows that I’m glad are over). You know, I quite enjoy Gail Carriger’s werewolves. I know they’re not unique to her, but I enjoy them nonetheless. It probably helps that Conall is one of my favorite names. I do a lot of research into Irish myth, guys. Probably way more than is healthy. Anyway, moving on. But…once more…WEREWOLVES.)

Right. I think a lot of people know the story of Dracula, but let’s go over it for those of you who don’t. Dracula is from Transylvania. Brief Latin lesson. Transylvania means “across the forest”, or “on the other side of the forest”. Back when it was under Roman rule, Romania (of which Transylvania is a part) was part of Dacia (or maybe Moesia…maps are not my thing, but I’m pretty sure it’s Dacia). Why do I know this and, more importantly, why am I telling you? Because I’ve spent the entire month of October researching stuff like this for a novel I’m not even working on next month, and my entire world is Ancient Rome, Ancient Ireland, and Ancient Germany right now…with some Mesopotamia for good measure. I’m not even sure I remember what I chose to pair this novel with. Hopefully I remember it as I type. Anyway…there you go for a brief piece of historical trivia.

Dracula, of course, is based upon Vlad the Impaler, so named because he impaled a LOT of people. It was his go-to punishment. Now, those of you who have seen that recent and GOD AWFUL movie might be saying now that he learned the technique from the Ottomans…and this is true. But impaling was like drawing and quartering; it was reserved for very special occasions or to make an impression. Vlad would punish people who looked at him the wrong way by impaling them. He basically ethnically cleansed his own country. Also, Mehmet defeated him, not the other way around. Way to go, Hollywood. This is almost as bad as Braveheart!

Wait. I’m supposed to be writing about the novel. Get a grip, C. Anyway, Dracula wants to invade England so he can find new blood and spread vampirism around the world! Like Frankenstein, it is a novel told in epistolary form, using not only letters, but diary entries, newspaper clippings, etc. There isn’t a single narrator, but the individual items all collect to form the narrative. And boy what a narrative it is.

Let’s do this. This is where I wish I could draw, so I could just do a comic version of this. But, alas…

Dracula goes to England, leaving Jonathan Harker in his castle to be torn apart by the sisters, three vampire ladies we have decided in latter years to call Dracula’s brides. Harker escapes and makes his way back to England, but doesn’t arrive until Lucy Westenra, a beautiful lady with three suitors, is turned into a vampire and has to be hunted down. This vampire thing happens despite the efforts of all three of her suitors and the great Abraham van Helsing, who is the only one of them who knows anything about vampires at all. Once Harker gets back to England he and his wife, Mina, join the fight against Dracula. But Dracula knows van Helsing is moving against him, so he attacks Mina, giving her some of his blood so he can control her. This backfires badly because Mina has visions of him (her righteousness battling the corruption of the vampire’s blood), leading the group to ultimately be able to destroy Dracula by consecrating his coffins and then stabbing him in the heart. One of the suitors dies heroically and is rewarded for his efforts by being Harker and Mina’s son’s namesake.

The comic would have been more fun, because I could have drawn Renfield eating bugs in order to gain their essence, as well as the picture I have in my head of Lord Godalming, who has a brilliant mustache. For the record, van Helsing looks nothing like Wolverine.

Now! I have, in fact, remembered what we decided to pair with this novel. We focused on the dichotomy of Mina Harker, who was at once pure and corrupt due to the efforts of Dracula. There is a lot of speculation about the nature of Mina and her relationship to the New Woman of the time, at once powerful and scandalous. Mina is an important force in the story; she is arguably the reason the men are able to kill Dracula in the first place, bravely facing down her visions and leading everyone to the beast. But she is also impure at this part of the story, only returning to purity when she can settle down and be wife and mother. Whether Stoker was writing an indictment of the New Woman or not is up for debate, as well as what Dracula himself represents. Seriously…some people think there’s latent homosexuality there, some think the story is an indictment of Oscar Wilde, some think the story is pro-Catholicism, and some think Dracula represents unrepentant capitalism. Dracula is a lot of things to a lot of different people.

But, anyway, dichotomy. That’s what we focused on with the drink. So we decided on mixing a Bloody Mary with a Margarita, the sugar and the spice lingering together in one drink. A suggests floating the Margarita into the Bloody Mary, but I think just blending it all together is much easier and achieves a more complicated mouth feel. Just go with whatever floats your boat. No pun intended. (Really.) But if taking the time to float something seems like work, here’s a recipe to just blend it all together.

http://www.honeyandbirch.com/bloody-margarita/

Anyway! That’s it! I apologize again for the history ramble. This is what happens when I spend a month doing research. What I’m going to do during NaNo, I’m not sure. Maybe it’ll be time for A to return the favor and write a few extra posts…

Have a happy Halloween! Be safe, have fun, and remember…the veil is thin, so be sure to watch out for mischievous spirits!

C

Buy the book:

http://www.amazon.com/Dracula-Bram-Stoker/dp/0486411095

Buy the booze:

http://www.totalwine.com/spirits/tequila/blanco-silver/patron-silver/p/5654750?s=906&igrules=true

Monday Muse: On Samhain

Hello, readers, and welcome to this week’s Monday Muse! As promised, I’m using this last M.M. of October to delve into the origins of Halloween and, hopefully, convert at least half of you to my “Get Supernatural Some Better Researchers” position. So, let’s get started!

Halloween is a pretty old holiday. (Auspicious start for a blog, yeah?) Its origins lie in the Celtic peoples of (parts of) Great Britain and Ireland, aka the Gaels, in their holiday Samhain (which is currently experiencing an up-swing among neo-Pagans and Wiccans today). Now, before we move on, let me indulge in a bit of “no one can pronounce my name correctly and it’s led to a bit of a tic” pedantism; the name is pronounced Sow-win, with Sow rhyming with ‘ow’ and not ‘row row row your boat’. So, basically, the way most Americans really want to pronounce JK Rowling’s name. So…get away from Sam-hane and get used to Sow-win.

All right…moving on. For a moment, I’m going to address my Wiccan friends: your beliefs do have a place, of course, but as it’s a reconstructionist religion based in the 20th century, I would feel remiss as a historian if I included it here. Now, the notions of inviting the dead to dine and the “dark half” of the year are definitely historical, so they will be included here. Notions of the God dying and whatnot? No.

Samhain is one of the two holidays–the other being Beltane–for which scholars can find a preponderance of contemporary evidence. It’s mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature (we’re talking thousands of years ago) and I can’t tell you how many Irish myths involve someone getting drunk on Samhain and making a boast he/she has to follow through on. Cuchulain (aka the Hound of Ulster) seems to feature in those drunken bets quite a bit. (Note: he’s my favorite, so I felt like I had to mention him.) In doing my research for this article (aka Google and Wikipedia, because I realized today I don’t have any books specifically about Ancient Irish religion), I found out that the Mound of the Hostages (a Neolithic passage tomb) is aligned with the Samhain sunrise. So, basically, there’s a lot of evidence that it was a really important holiday.

Now, what specifically did it celebrate? The beginning of winter and the dark half of the year. It’s celebrated from sunset on October 31st to sunset on the following day. Of course, it must be noted that most Celtic holidays (and not just the Irish ones) tended to begin the night before (check out Walpurgis–German Beltane–for example, as well as the notion of Christmas Eve) because the Celtic day actually began at sunset. So Samhain began at the beginning of the day the way Celts reckoned things.

But wait, C! Nov 1st isn’t the beginning of winter. It’s not even the winter solstice (Yule, to those German types)! Yes, dear reader, you are correct. There is scholarly evidence to suggest that this comes from the fact that the ancient Irish (and British) were herders, not farmers, so their calendar revolved around the herds rather than the fields. Historically, Samhain marked the day the herds came in from the summer fields and livestock were slaughtered for the coming winter. Yule, as I mentioned, is Germanic; the ancient tribes of what eventually became Germany were agriculture-based, hence their winter celebration being more in line with the seasons. You know how the Christmas tree comes from Germany? There you go. Yule. Anyway, going back to Samhain; it is the fact that the Celts believed that sunset marked the beginning of the new day that leads many scholars to believe that Samhain is also the New Year. After all, getting drunk and making promises seems to be a New Year’s tradition; it’s just that modern people don’t intend to keep the promises they make.

So…Samhain is the beginning of winter. That’s it? Where’d the pumpkins come from? The costumes? The candy? Well, calm down. I’m getting there. Yes, the cattle are brought down and it’s the beginning of winter, but remember that drunkenness I just mentioned? Well, there’s also fire. And faeries. And food. Lots of food.

You see, as the beginning of the dark half of the year, Samhain is also basically an Ancient Irish Wake. And, if Irish drinking songs have taught you anything, it’s that the Irish love a good wake. Basically, Samhain is the mirror to Beltane, which marks the beginning of summer (the light half) and the living time; Samhain, then, becomes a festival for the dead. Like Beltane, fires were built that were believed to have special properties of protection and cleansing. Also like Beltane, Samhain is a liminal time, when the boundaries between the realms were at their thinnest. Through this thin boundary could come the Aos Si (sorry for no dash up there; my laptop won’t let me), from whom the Irish felt the need to protect themselves, and the spirits of the dead, with whom the Irish intended to dine. It is the Aos Si (the faeries) that needed propitiating, not the dead (and certainly NOT DEMONS), and offerings were left out for them in order that they might, well, leave everyone alone. The Aos Si weren’t nice; they could be really damn scary if they wanted to be.

So…was that the origin of trick or treating? Sort of. You see, there was also a tradition of mumming, wherein people would dress up in costumes and go from door to door reciting verse for food. These costumes were also a way of imitating the Aos Si, as well as disguising one’s self from them. The costumes, the propitiation of the Aos Si, and the mumming seem to have amalgamated themselves into the modern Halloween tradition of trick or treating. Pumpkins? Not really a part of Samhain. Nor were the turnips that were popular in Ireland, which the pumpkin replaced in America because it was so much more abundant here. They came later, after Christianity wormed its way through the world. (Worm…because it’s Halloween! Ha!)

OK…there’s a lot more to mention, but I seem to have hit what I’m trying to impose as my word limit here. Anyway…divination seems to have been a thing on Samhain, linked to the fire (so…everyone turned into Melisandre, basically), and there are some hints that sacrifice may have been involved (though the evidence for this is mythological and/or Christian in nature, so perhaps best taken with a grain of salt). Cuchulain would like me to mention that the famous Cattle Raid of Cooley was only successful because no one expected a cattle raid in winter, and it was cowardly to resort to such artifice to achieve victory. He’s understandably bitter. It was only his fault the invasion was successful at all…

Anyway. There are a lot of individual rituals that I could get into, but I don’t think I should write a full-on essay again. I’m already late as it is. The thing to remember is that the Ancient Irish were a tribal community, meaning that each tribe tended to have their own individual traditions. What I’ve described is the overarching tradition.

Now. One more thing: THERE IS NO DEMON NAMED SAMHAIN (prounounced Sam-hane). If I see one more person using Supernatural as a source on anything like this, I think I might Hulk out. People of the world: Supernatural is a TV show and should NEVER be cited. Ever. On top of that, whomever their researcher is…Oh, who am I kidding, they don’t have one. Their idea of research is typing “I need a god who’s fast” and going, “Oh! Mercury! Perfect!” before using him as a glorified servant to other gods. Just…enjoy the show, but do not go around claiming people had to hide from Samhain the demon. Please.

Anyway…that’s it. Sorry it’s late, but I got caught up. I’ll be back Friday to discuss and pair Dracula. 

C

Silly Sunday: St. Crispin’s Day!

Sorry, folks. Once again, you’re stuck with me. Sorry…again.

Also…no silliness today. Do you know why?

It’s the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt! And what kind of Shakespeare fan would I be if I didn’t celebrate this Crispin Crispian’s day? It took all my might not to go out and buy a little bow and arrow (you know, the ones they sell for kids?) and shoot at ersatz French knights while screaming Henry V’s “band of brothers” speech at the top of my lungs. As it was, I spent my entire workout whispering “once more unto the breach” when I reached the last set of a particular exercise.

I mean, there’s a reason the Agincourt speech waffles between my favorite and second favorite of all of Shakespeare’s historical speeches. The other is “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” and, yes, I have favorite speeches divided into categories. If I didn’t, I’d have 10 favorites and that’s just silly.

Well…I suppose I should leave you with something interesting. The following is a period carol; it was performed at the Tower of London for the 600th anniversary. And if there’s anything I love, it’s period music. Along with Shakespeare. And history. And many other things. I’m a being full of love.

Anyway…that’s it for today! I’ll see you tomorrow for my discussion of Samhain, the origin of Halloween.

C

Shakespeare Saturday: Shakes and the Occult

Welcome, ladies and germs, to the last Shakespeare Saturday before Halloween! Oh…Halloween…how you’re looking mighty Christmas-y in the stores these days. Is the going look this year A Nightmare Before Christmas chic? Because, if so, yay! But…somehow I doubt it. I don’t think retailers are smart enough to do that.

Apparently, my Halloween decorations are supposed to be gleaned from the happy pumpkins and red-leaf decorations strewn about the place at the beginning of Autumn. No, Homegoods, autumnal decorations are not Halloween decorations. Halloween is *not* an autumnal holiday; at its root, it is actually the Celtic New Year and beginning of winter. (Note: this is because the Celts believed the day actually began the night before, so the night always came before the day as opposed to our tendency to begin things with morning.) It is also a celebration to remember the dead at the close of the old year and beginning of the new. But I’ll be getting into that on Monday. I recently read a comment on a Buzzfeed article that–no joke–claimed there was a being named Sam Hain that was a very evil spirit. WHERE DID THIS COME FROM?! DID THIS GIRL GET HER INFORMATION ON SAMHAIN FROM SUPERNATURAL?!?!?!?!?!

*deep breath* OK…sorry. Moving on.

Shakespeare has a lot of the supernatural in his stories, probably most famously with the witches in Macbeth and the ghost in Hamlet. There’s the prophesies in Julius Caesar, as well. Caesar ignores the omens and ends up dead because the prophesies in his story come from above–the gods–rather than below. He ignores legitimate warnings from the Heavens and meets his doom. Hamlet determines that the ghost of his father–and his accusations–are true by staging the play-within-a-play, but until then questions whether the ghost is actually his father or a demon come to use Hamlet’s grief against his everlasting soul. (The more important theme in Hamlet is not really about the ghost being supernatural, but all of the Catholic themes to be found therein. This is the cusp of Jacobean England, mind; there is still a lot of Catholic-based problems–like being arrested–to worry about.) It’s only after ascertaining that the ghost is legit that he goes full force with this plans.

But it’s probably Macbeth that has the most occult-driven of all of Shakespeare’s stories. The three witches meeting in thunder, lightning, or in rain with their fillets of snakes and eyes of newt weaving prophesies that come true only to Macbeth’s ruination. They plague upon his mind, working to twist his ambitions into something dark, violent, and self-destructive. Now, arguably it’s Lady Macbeth that’s the ultimate twister here, pushing him over the edge, but the witches totally knew that. In the end, though, there’s a lot of dead people, Scottish accents, and Duncan’s son is on the throne. Somewhere among the speeches and blood, there’s a hint of history (Macbeth totally was real).

The thing is, though…the witches represent something completely different to us than they did in Shakespeare’s England. They prayed upon Macbeth’s weaknesses, yes, but the ultimate villain in the story is Macbeth himself (and his Lady) for making bad decisions. They bring everything upon themselves, allowing their ambition to o’erthrow their humanity. That’s what the important lesson to take away from Macbeth becomes: check your ambition. The witches, to us, are just a plot device because, duh, they don’t exist. A way to make the story interesting, and to deliver the prophesies that prey upon Macbeth’s weaknesses.

Not so for Shakespearean England. To them, the witches are terrifying, and very real. Very, very real. And they could be any person, from the old woman down the street to the tanner who missed Church that one time because he was “sick”. Anyone at any point could play that role, because Satan and his minions were everywhere, and you could be their next victim. Macbeth could be you if you’re not careful to dismiss the temptations of the Devil. For us, the play is a warning of not letting your ambitions get the best of you; for Shakespearean England, it’s a warning of not letting Satan win. It serves as a warning either way, of course, but one of them leaves us looking around every corner, terrified by demons, and the other thinking about what they’re willing to do to get their way.

I, personally, am glad the witches have been relegated to fun plot point. For the life of me, I cannot imagine worrying if every person telling me I’m destined for great things is secretly a minion of Satan trying to worm his or her way into my soul.

Anyway…that’s all I have for you today. Here’s a couple of cool articles from my backlog of Shakespeare bookmarks to keep you entertained if nothing I’ve said makes any sense:

http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sources/macbethsources.html

http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/londonlife.html

http://www.occultopedia.com/s/shakespeare.htm

I’ll be back on Monday for my muse/rant on Samhain. Tomorrow is something silly from A!

C

Boozy Books: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Hi! It’s Boozy Books Friday! Errrr, well it would have been. So I’m an hour or two late, it happens…

Continuing our spooktastic series of Halloween favorites this week is Robert Louis Stevenson’s thrilling gothic horror commonly referred to simply as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (for the full title please see our header). This novel, written in 1886, is often associated with schizophrenia and mad scientists (and in some rare cases The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), and is a classic story of good versus evil.

Though you probably think you know the story (mad scientist unleashes the worst of himself in an experiment gone bad), I would venture to say that unless you’ve read it recently you are probably forgetting that the story follows a lawyer by the name of Gabriel John Utterson. Utterson spends the duration of the plot investigating the strange occurrences and relations between Jekyll and Hyde. Mr. Hyde is immediately revealed to be a moral deviant and so Utterson believes his association with Dr. Jekyll to be motivated by blackmail. Jekyll assures Utterson that all is well, but as Hyde’s violent sprees increase so too does Jekyll’s seclusion. The true nature of Jekyll’s experimentation and duality do not come to light until death. The death of Mr. Hyde, that is, dressed in Dr. Jekyll’s clothes. A letter written by the doctor in his final hours reveals his loss of control over the dark nature he managed to separate from the good in the name of science.

This pairing is a no brainer to me, because it clearly calls for a violently alcoholic shot, followed by a mild-mannered chaser. Of course, absinthe immediately comes to mind to represent Mr. Hyde while a light, crisp cider bespeaks Dr. Jekyll. Personally, I recommend drinking your absinthe a la Neue Bohemian pour, but if you aren’t comfortable setting alcohol on fire go for the traditional absinthe ritual. If you have NO IDEA what I’m talking about I’ll link a fun little website devoted to the green fairy.

http://www.absinthe101.com/prepare.html

Enjoy responsibly! Cheers!

A

http://www.amazon.com/Strange-Jekyll-Dover-Thrift-Editions/dp/0486266885

Monday Muse: Hamlet at The Barbican

Hello internet friends! It’s time once again for the Nerd Cactus Monday Muse. Today we will be revisiting Hamlet (yes, again) after having attended a screening of National Theatre Live’s presentation of Hamlet at The Barbican Theatre. In case you aren’t aware, NTL is an incredible program that broadcasts live theatrical experiences into select cinemas around the world, creating a more accessible/affordable way of viewing live theatre for the masses. Yes, despite the cost of airfare to England and hiked-up ticket prices to see Benedict Cumberbatch in his sold out performance of Hamlet, C and I got a chance to see the visually stunning, electric, and erratic version of Hamlet as directed by Lyndsey Turner.

Let me start by saying how truly incredible it is that a 400 year old play can be interpreted in so many ways. Every director’s vision is different and every Hamlet brings a specific arsenal of life experiences to the role. Two months ago we were extraordinarily fortunate to see Hamlet at the Stratford Shakeapeare Festival (twice). We raved over it’s simplicity, it’s magnificence, it’s truth. Our love for Stratford’s Hamlet was neither increased nor diminished by watching Cumberbatch’s performance, because believe me when I say that the two plays we viewed are on opposite ends of the spectrum in almost every way. And it still worked. Well, of course it bloody did, it’s Shakespeare!

As is our Nerd Cactus custom when we have lots to say about plays, I’ll be putting these thoughts into bullet points… Hopefully this will help me contain my ideas and ease the reader’s experience.

– The set design was a visual stunner. Quite the opposite of Stratford’s bare use of stage and blocks, this production was set in a sumptuous palace; a space so large it almost created a sense of isolation around the characters. The second act truly transformed the stage with the addition of mounds of dirt, helping set most of the action outside and highlighting the decaying trust/morality/sanity that is rampant in the lives of Hamlet’s inner circle.

– The use of music in this one was interesting to say the least. The use of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole was an odd choice, but somehow suited to the overall production. Unfortunately, much of the scene change ambience was so loud I was repeatedly taken out of the moment because I was worried about going deaf…

– The decision to rearrange the sequence of key soliloquies and cut some scenes altogether was a touch confusing initially, but the placement was never actually questionable. The continuation of thematic climaxes worked very well and by taking Hamlet out of his reality and into his thoughts (as demonstrated by light shifts and the slow motion continuation of the action) this production did a particularly good job of pitching reality against fantasy.

– As with most pieces of theatre there were standout performances and there were a few characters who simply fell flat. Cumberbatch’s performance was so incredibly committed that some of the actors around him started to feel more like set dressing than part of the story. Laertes in particular had a sadly one dimensional performance, while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern did little to deserve the chuckles Cumberbatch fed them.

– Both the female leads in this production gave superb performances. In Stratford we lamented Gertrude’s inability to sustain the momentum her Hamlet had created, but we also wrote it off as a character who was not given much substance as per the script. The Barbican’s Gertrude completely put that excuse to shame. Her relationship with Hamlet was strong and stable, and the closet scene was incredibly well defined as Gertrude’s turning point in the play. Hamlet taking the distraught queen into his confidence was the most deliberate version I’ve ever seen, giving Gertrude power in her knowledge of his false madness.

– The other standout performance was given by Sian Brooke as Ophelia. While C and I agreed that hers and Hamlet’s personal connection was not as palpable as the relationship we saw on stage in Stratford we were blown away by her take on Ophelia’s madness. With an odd angularity, blank doe eyes, halting steps, and numerous facial/physical tics Ophelia’s loss of sanity was the picture of a complete breakdown without appearing contrived. The Ophelia of the first act was quiet and unassuming which worked to great affect when she came meandering out covered in dirt and chanting like a loon. She also did a great job holding her own against Cumberbatch’s manic delivery of the “get thee to a nunnery” scene. The moment in which she tried to communicate the nature of their meeting to him was wonderful as was his deliberate overlooking of that fact as his sense of betrayal became more heightened through the course of the scene.
Sidenote: whoever was responsible for dressing her in the yellow top and baggy khaki capri combo for the “Nunnery” scene should be slapped. (Note from C: Hear hear! They were awful!)

Claudius was also great. This Claudius was an ominous, chilling, and threatening businessman. The lack of real affection shown between he and Gertrude did wonders to suggest that he’d taken advantage of her to elevate himself. Ciaran Hinds is so deliberate in each look and movement that his guilt and lack of conscience is unquestionable. His reaction to the play within a play in particular was genius; conveying not only his guilt, but a growing sense of anger and urgency as he struggles to retain any hold over the increasingly wild Hamlet.

– As for Hamlet himself… Well, he was brilliant. In a very different way from the brilliance exhibited by our Stratford Hamlet. This Hamlet is built upon raw, uncontrolled, erratic emotions. One second he’s laughing, the next he’s crying. Unbridled anger played a large part of Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, often seeming to blind him and throw him off course (the character not the actor). Where Stratford’s Hamlet laid deliberate plans and moved with consistent purpose towards his bloody task, the Hamlet of The Barbican is out of his element, unsure of how to proceed, and so aghast at the terrible truth that he is unable to reign in his feelings. He cannot separate one betrayal from the next and soon he views traitors all around him. His performance was energetic yet melancholy, strained by his constant grief for a lost father we are made to understand he was very close to. Hamlet is not consistent in Cumberbatch’s hands, he is a churning whirlwind of conflict and confusion both led and hindered by his agitation. His “madness” is more of a relapse toward boyhood than a jaunt into mental instability, perhaps suggesting his attempt to return to a time of safety and certainty. As with any good Hamlet it is exhausting to watch Cumberbatch’s performance and it is clear that he pours his all into the character from start to finish.

There’s plenty more to say, but I’ll leave it at that so if and when you have a chance to attend a screening there will still be some surprises. I’m not trying to inundate you with opinions I’m just trying to give you a taste of the production. Please do go out and see it for yourself (or any production of Hamlet for that matter) as everyone sees something else within the play. So keep an eye on National Theatre Live’s website for details regarding encore presentations near you.

Happy Monday!!!

A

Silly Sunday: No Silliness Today

Guys. Guys, guys, guys…

I can’t be silly today. I have just gotten home from seeing Hamlet through National Theater Live, aka Benedict Cumberbatch is Hamlet. How can one be silly after sitting through three hours of such intensity?

Plus, I think I’m getting Stratford flashbacks. All I can do is compare the two. What I liked about one and thought was better about the other. The direction decisions that I understood and those that felt really weird. Which characters really stood out and which faded.

You know, it’s really amazing how a single play can be so many different things. The same lines can mean so many different things. There can be laughter in one and tears in another, or both. Hamlet himself is always a new man, and his relationships with others are constantly changing. Does he still love Ophelia, or was it a passing thing? Is he mad or truly playing?

Tomorrow, we’ll get into our deeper analysis of this production of Hamlet, as well as how we feel it compares to the version we saw almost two months ago (what? Two months?! <–HA! A Hamlet joke!). For those who simply must know if we liked it…

Yes. Yes, we did. And so did Yorick, our little plastic Halloween skull that accompanied us to the theater. It is well worth the price of admission. I only wish I could have been there in person, because I’m sure some of the feeling was lost in viewing the performance on a screen as opposed to in the theater. And, oh fangirls, yes…Cumberbatch was awesome. But what else did you expect?

Anyway…tune in tomorrow for our analysis. It’ll be worth it.

Sorry for no silliness.

C

Shakespeare Saturday: Yay Archeology!!!

Hey, readers! I know, I know… I’m a bit late with today’s post (ok, fine yesterday’s post), but I’ve had a looooong day and finally have a moment to breathe. So I’m gonna use this moment wisely and get up a Shakespeare post! Thank goodness I was at dinner with C this evening, because I realized I’d shared an article with her this very week that would be perfect for RIGHT NOW.

A recent archeological excavation has unearthed parts of The Curtain. This theatre predated The Globe and is the stage upon which Henry V and Romeo & Juliet premiered. After falling into disuse and being torn down, the theatre’s exact location was lost and so for 500 years its foundation has been casually hanging out under London’s streets. It had a good run, but that game of hide and seek is officially over. Good to see you again, Curtain!

http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jun/06/shakespeare-curtain-theatre-shoreditch-east-lonfon

A

Boozy Books: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

Hello, boys and girls, and welcome to Week Two of Nerd Cactus’ October-ween Horror Special! For the rest of this month (three Fridays including this one), we’ll be pairing some of literature’s classic horror tales. Last week, we dove into Dorian Gray and his self-inflicted death by painting; this week, I’m taking one for the team and presenting Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. And by taking one for the team, I mean…I do not like this novel. It’s a classic…it’s completely obligatory for this special Nerd Cactus event…but I hate it.

Many novels have something to say. They’re a warning or a celebration or a Christian allegory featuring a talking lion that I felt completely betrayed by when I reached an advanced enough age to realize that C.S. Lewis was basically preaching to me. It’s not the message I have a problem with, really; it’s how heavy-handed that message is. And I think Shelley went a little too far along Proselytizer Lane with this one. This is not to say that I cannot recognize its merits; there are some who say Mary Shelley basically invented science fiction and, of course, the Creature has withstood the rigors of time to become an icon of horror. Granted, I think it’s mostly because of the movie–Boris Karloff is forever burned into the collective mind of humanity–but still…Shelley deserves some credit. I just do not like reading the book.

I promise not to let that interfere with my description, though, because I am a professional. An amateur pretending to be professional, at any rate. Fake it ’til you make it, folks.

Let’s dive in.

Mary Shelley was hanging out with some friends when they decided to have a competition over who could write the best horror story. This is what happens when you’re friends with Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori, I guess. I need friends like these. It took Mary Shelley a few days to come up with the idea that eventually became Frankenstein, but I’d say she totally won that bet. (Polidori is a close second, however, for “The Vampyre”, which was the first published vampire story in English.) Lady writers FTW!

The story of the novel has significant differences from the movie. See if you can spot them.

The novel begins with a frame narrative featuring Captain Walton, a failed writer who has set out for the North Pole in order to become famous. (Nowadays, he’d probably put out a sex tape, but this is a different time.) The entire novel is written in epistolary form, meaning it’s presented as a series of letters; in this case, they’re between Walton and his sister. As they’re sailing, Walton first sees a giant driving a dogsled and then they rescue a half-frozen dude who decides to school Walton on the sin of over-ambition. His name is Macbeth Victor Frankenstein.

Victor decides to tell Walton his story. He’s a scientist, he’s in love with the girl his family adopted, and, oh yeah, he learns how to impart life to non-living matter. And what’s a scientifically-minded young man to do when he discovers something like that? Uh…play God, of course (which is…duh duh DUUHHHHH…the moral of the story). Victor decides he’s going to use the techniques he’s discovered to create a body using inanimate matter. He wants his creature to be beautiful, but because he is forced to work in the large scale, the Creature comes out hideously deformed (pretty much the only thing Karloff’s version has in common with this one). Victor, disgusted, runs away; the Creature, meanwhile, develops a horrible case of abandonment issues and disappears. They do not meet again until the Creature murders Victor’s brother.

Let’s get something straight before we move on: The Creature is not the villain. Or, rather, he is not the only villain. Victor and his Adam are mirrors of one another (this point is made painfully obvious in the endcap when the Creature’s speech is almost identical to Victor’s), repulsed and repulsive. The Creature does awful things–AWFUL THINGS–but really all he wants is a Bride so he can live out his life in peace. Seriously…he wants to go live in the wilderness and never see anyone again. Like many, he thinks people are awful. But he kills pretty much everyone in Victor’s life in vengeance, which of course is going to cause people to be scared of him. Like I said, the story’s pretty heavy-handed with the message.

Victor agrees to create the Bride, but changes his mind and destroys her as the Creature watches. In return, the Creature kills his friend and chokes his wife (that orphan Victor fell in love with at the beginning) to death. Victor’s father dies of the sadness and Victor vows revenge. Instead, he ends up dying on Walton’s ship. Walton then finds the Creature mourning his Creator; the Creature vows to burn himself on his own pyre and Walton takes off. The Creature is never seen again.

A bit different than the movie, yeah? Did I mention the Creature is really eloquent and teaches himself to read? He isn’t the near-dumb, lumbering monster of Karloff, which is what has infiltrated the collective consciousness. Nor is he the cobbled together, abnormal-brain-having collection of parts. He is a monster, yes, because of his behavior, but so is Victor for creating and then abandoning him in the instant of his birth. How much of the monstrous nature of the Creature is inherent in him because of his unnatural birth and how much is as a result of how he is treated? Prometheus, as seen in the subtitle, is the Titan who, in the Roman version of the myth, created humanity from mud and clay; in this, Victor can be seen as creating life from non-living matter. In the Greek myth, Prometheus steals fire for humanity and is punished for it; there are some who believe Shelley thought of Prometheus as a villain for this, because fire led to eating meat. (Eating cooked meat is also the reason we evolved into a species capable of questioning the morality of eating meat, of course, but Shelley wouldn’t know that.)

In the end, the Creature and his Creator are mirrors of one another, monster and victim both and ultimately unable to escape the other. I admit, though…I like the movie better. Not the least of which is because, without Whale, we would never have Young Frankenstein, and that movie is a masterpiece.

So…what to drink with a novel such a this? I did some research and found out…there’s actually a drink called the Corpse Reviver! Apparently, it’s a bit of a hair-of-the-dog drink, but…how could I resist a drink such as that? It’s practically perfect (in every way…wait. No. Different story.) for this book! Granted, it’s a bit…complex, but not terribly so. And there’s a version where you can eliminate the dash of Absinthe and change the gin out for bourbon! Mmm…bourbon. OK, here you go:

Corpse Reviver

1 part Gin

1 part lemon juice

1 part Cointreau

1 part Kina Lillet (Kina is hard to find, so you can substitute the Lillet Blanc and add a bit of bitters.)

1 dash of Absinthe

Shake the ingredients in a mixer with ice, then strain into a cocktail glass. You can either include the Absinthe in the shaker or swirl it around the cup to create a coating. Either way seems cool. For the bourbon version, just substitute the gin for bourbon and eliminate the Absinthe. If you choose to add a dash of bitters to the Lillet Blanc, eliminate this for the bourbon version, as well.

OK! I GOT THROUGH IT! You guys…I haven’t read this book in years because I don’t like it. I literally skimmed through it over dinner yesterday. I feel so proud. Look at me. Anyway, that’s it. Tomorrow, we Shakespeare! Let’s see what A manages to pull out. It might be a bit late, though, because I’m seeing her show tomorrow and we’re going out afterwards. No Corpse Revivers for me, though. I’ll stick to scotch.

Ciao!

C

Buy the book:

http://www.amazon.com/Frankenstein-Mary-Wollstonecraft-Shelley/dp/1503262421/

Buy the booze:

Gin- http://www.totalwine.com/spirits/gin//gordons-gin/p/569175?s=906&igrules=true

Cointreau- http://www.totalwine.com/spirits/liqueurs-cordials-schnapps/citrus-triple-sec/orange/cointreau/p/532375?s=906&igrules=true

Lillet Blanc- http://www.totalwine.com/wine/white-wine/bordeaux-blend/lillet-blanc/p/2692750?s=906&igrules=true

Absinthe- http://www.totalwine.com/spirits/liqueurs-cordials-schnapps/herbal-spice/absinthe/parnasse-absinth-superiore/p/104516750?s=906&igrules=true

Monday Muse: A Typical C Ramble

Greetings! Welcome to this week’s edition of the Monday Muse, ladies and gentlemen!

First things first, I am absolutely, 100% behind my cohort’s idea for Halloween-y books for October. I mean, obviously. Halloween is also *my* favorite holiday, though perhaps for different reasons than most. I’m Pagan (hey, is that a new thing about myself I haven’t shared before? Or has it just been a while since I mentioned it?), so it’s actually a holiday of spiritual significance to me. I’m reserving at least one Monday of this month to talk about Samhain, but I’m saving it so I can work through my long-standing rage at the show Supernatural vis a vis its near slanderous misuse of both the name and what the holiday means. I understand it’s been six seasons, but I’m not over it.

Thanks, CW. I totally love having my holidays demonized. Very creative of you.

*cough* Like I said, long-standing rage. Oooo-sah, C…let it go.

Oh, God…that just reminds me how much I hate Frozen. I feel like I’m thisclose to the Dark Side sometimes. But I have legit reasons for not liking Frozen; writerly reasons that make total sense when I spell them out. Mostly, have you noticed that the movie makes no damn sense? It really doesn’t. And it’s got such little character development. Well, I suppose Elsa changes, but that’s about it. I mean…”Let it Go” is all well and good, but not when you’re the fricken Queen! Those people are relying on you, dammit! You know who the villain is? Their parents, for teaching a girl to hate herself for being different. Not Hans. He’s just an opportunistic shit. And what purpose does that rock troll song even serve if the movie is all about familial love? Like, seriously…

OK. I seem to be in a really ranty mood today. Sorry about that. Truth be told, I had no idea what I was going to write about today. I literally sat down at the computer and just told my fingers to type something. I really need some time off from writing. Time off to recuperate and take my own advice from a few Muses ago: take in some inspiration. A couple of my favorite authors–Christopher Moore and Jim Butcher–have recently released new books (the first in a new series in the case of the latter) and I am taking them with me on my trip to EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival. This week, I have become a case study in why you should all follow my advice. Fortunately for me, the next couple of days just involve typing up some character bios, so I’m going to take some time to take in other peoples’ writing (and delicious food).

But because I cannot leave you with absolutely NOTHING, I recently came across the Saxo Grammaticus version of Hamlet because I went to a used book store and bought ALL THE BOOKS (or, really, filled up an entire basket of used books on a variety of subjects), including a trilogy of British Myths and Legends. Also in this trilogy is the story of Macbeth, which is one of those great legends based in history, but it was the story of Amleth (Hamlet) that really stuck with me. It was obviously a source for Shakespeare, but contains none of the grief; that was all Bill. Reading it, I realized how much of himself Shakespeare put into the play; no doubt the name reminded him of his son, Hamnet, who’d died young but a few years earlier.

Here’s a version not bound in a shiny hardback:

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/amleth.html

If I had to pull a magical lesson out of all of this, it’d be: yes, your story has been done before. It’s been told, probably dozens of times. But not by you. And if Shakespeare can transform Amleth (and, of course, Thomas Kyd’s Ur-Hamlet) into one of the greatest studies of grief and vengeance in the English language, you can probably do a pretty good job putting your own spin on anything you write, even if it’s a story that’s been done before. There are only a few different stories, but there’s only one of you. (OK, that last one was a bit trite, wasn’t it? Like I said, I really need a break.)

OK! Look at that. A couple rants, a cute message, and a link to an old Danish myth that was originally in Latin! I think I did pretty well. Yeah!

All right, that’s it. This mess is over. I’ll see you on Friday for the next in our Horror Classics Boozy Books special! Depending on my mood, it’ll either be Frankenstein; or, The Modern Promethus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley or Dracula by Bram Stoker. Both are masterpieces, but I have to decide if I want to do the one I actually like first or get the other one out of the way. Which one do you think deserves to be done on Halloween week? Dracula, right? Yeah. This week, it’s Frankenstein. (It’s the one I don’t really like, in case anyone cared.)

(I know no one did.)

C