Ode to Shirley Jackson

Nothing is more exhilarating for a book nerd than to find another book nerd that totally gets your reading preferences.

Example: I was browsing through my local used bookstore for some reading material, when an employee came up to me and asked if I needed any help. He was an older man, dressed cleanly in a button down shirt and tweed slacks, a look that pairs well with a stack of leather bound books and a glass of brandy.

I replied, “Heck yeah, you can help me!” I followed with an inarticulate list of qualities that I prefer in my books: “Dark and scary but not overly scary. Somewhat creepy. I guess horror? But not just horror. Like, sophisticated horror. Psychological stuff. Um…history. People. Cats…” At the tail end of my babbling, I was just reciting random words.

Luckily, this employee was able to glean some sort of understanding from my rambling. He responded, “Ahh, I see,” and headed into the book aisles, quickly coming back with The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson. “I love Shirley Jackson!” I shouted, so that nearby patrons raised their heads from their book browsing in annoyance.

“Good! Great writer,” the employee replied. “Have you read, “We Have Always–”

“Lived in the Castle?” I interjected. “Of course! That’s one of my favorite books of all time.”

“Yes,” he said. “From what you told me, that would be a perfect match.”

We looked at each other for a moment, and I considered the possibility that my soulmate was a man two decades older than me in tweed slacks.

He broke the silence by recommending some other titles that would interest me, and I went home ready for a full day of reading.

shirleyjackson

I’m a sucker for psychological horror. The more a book or movie messes with my head, the more I love it. This is probably why every time I finish a book by Shirley Jackson, I want to proclaim to the world, “I love this woman!” Most people are aware of Shirley Jackson’s brilliance, but I can’t help but reiterating it.

Jackson’s work is coated with such a beautifully subtle horror. There is an innate horror in isolation, bigotry, pettiness, blind conformity, and alienation. She disturbs on a fundamental and mundane level. She writes of the terrors of everyday existence, the villains and disturbing scenarios that have less to do with the supernatural and more to do with the evil of human nature. The Lottery, of course, is one of her most famous works, and it’s pretty easy to find readers who can vividly recollect the horror of first reading it. The Lottery is a great story, but I am even more particularly captivated by the entire book, The Lottery and Other Stories, as a complete work.

shirleyjackson2

Of the many fabulous short stories, The Daemon Lover struck me as particularly disconcerting and heartbreaking, while The Witch was fantastically creepy. The Tooth brought the reader down a road of madness along with the protagonist of the story.

Jackson’s repeated use of the name “James Harris” within the compilation is an ingenious device. Never has a seemingly common name filled me with such foreboding. The name is the presence of evil. It is a sign that things are not alright within this world, and that something sinister lurks behind everyday interactions. It is unsettling to the reader and adds to the overall underlying apprehension that bridges the stories together. In the Epilogue, the reader is introduced to the inspiration behind the name James Harris, and it is just the absolute perfect close to a wonderful set of short stories.

I feel a kinship with this incredible author, and I come back to her work over and over again. As October looms near and the days shorten, I suggest picking up one of her books. As she so beautifully stated, “I delight in what I fear.”

Advertisements

Lil’ W. and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Lil W

Back in the day when I was a diminutive child with a pageboy haircut, oversized glasses, and a superstitious nature, I had a strange fascination with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I can’t recall how I heard the story. It must have been told to me at some point (I was still in the picture book stage of my reading comprehension). I just remember being absolutely fascinated by the story and accepting it as fact. I still readily believed everything that was told to me, whether or not it seemed like obvious fiction.

My entire life I have been both terrified and fascinated by dark and macabre subjects, and that story was just what I needed to become completely obsessed. My parents bought me the animated Disney movie version which I watched again and again with delight and terror. They also took me to a theater production of the story. I closed my eyes during the Headless Horseman scene, yet was still full of glee over the experience.

I think my mom in particular found my gullibility adorable, because she decided to feed into my magical beliefs. I truly took The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to be fact, and my favorite part of American history. So, it seemed very natural when, during a short road trip in Wisconsin, my mom parked the car next to a covered bridge in a wooded area, turned around to me and my sisters in the backseat, and announced, “This is the bridge.”

Little me (in a very squeaky voice): “What bridge?”

“The bridge that Ichabod Crane had to cross to get away from the Headless Horseman.”

The Bridge
Bridge

My little brain flooded with wonderment and dread. This was the very place that Ichabod Crane dashed across on his horse to escape the Headless Horseman. This was the last place he was known to be before disappearing forever. I clearly had no concept of geography, because we were in Wisconsin, not New England. But, none of it mattered, I felt like I was connecting with something magical and terrifying. My most vivid memory of this event is peering down below at the river running under the bridge and thinking over and over in my head. “This is it. This is the place.”

With age came the realization that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was just a tale written by Washington Irving, and that we weren’t even close to New England. Speaking with my mother now, apparently that evening when we returned home, I cried before bed, fearing the Headless Horseman would come get me. This, I admit, I do not recall. The really vivid moment I can remember is looking over that bridge railing at the creek below in absolute belief and awe. I’m glad that I got to believe the world was filled with ghosts and magic a little while longer. I never believed in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, but I sure as hell believed in the Headless Horseman.

Here is my one of my newer illustrations inspired by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Headless Horseman

Continuing Thoughts During Vampire Month

So, vampire month is almost over, and I am currently working on compiling my observations into a larger project. However, there’s one small issue that has been bothering me as I continue to consume vampire-related media, and I feel like discussing it right now.

Silver: Does it or does it not kill vampires?

Silver

Now, I’m just going to go out and say my opinion on the matter: Nope. Traditionally, silver is used to kill werewolves. Sunlight and wooden stakes kill vampires. Crosses, holy water, and garlic repels them. (Of course, there’s also ye old decapitation to stop a vampire, but that’s pretty gross.)

The Old Standbys
Vampire Weapons

Let me clarify: When creating vampire movies and books, the creator can make up whatever rules they want. If you’re making a movie and you want your vampires to be allergic to kittens and candy, by all means, go ahead.

Vampires Beware!
Kittens and Candy

But, there’s just too many rules for monsters. In my own opinion, I prefer to simplify the problem. If I have a vampire slayer protagonist, I don’t want them squirming over whether to pick up the stake or the silver. I want hard rules.

Besides, Anne Rice agrees with me on the subject.

But, what does the reader personally think?

Vampire Month

I have dubbed June “Vampire Month.” My goal: To read and watch as many vampire books and movies as I can in one month. Why June? ‘Cause. That’s why.

Dracula

Just to be clear, I don’t believe in vampires. I don’t fantasize about being one or dating one. I’m not a huge Twilight fan, and although I did have a regrettable goth period in high school, I don’t go with the goth look anymore.

Note: Ok, Ok. I do have a small, unimposing vampire tattoo. But, this particular vampire was a character I routinely created when making comics and stories as a kid. It’s more a reminder of my childhood than a salute to vampires.
Vamps

I love good literature and film. Dark, weird, and macabre are usually the traits I look for in the media I consume. There are also such varied interpretations of the vampire myth, exploring many different themes; it just doesn’t get old for me.

In addition, I like to give myself projects outside of my usual art making. In between creating work, I find it beneficial to read and learn. The more I know, the more inspiration I get. After this experiment, I plan to create my own illustration project that explores my vampire findings. Stay tuned…

Madame Bovary

I know, it’s been a ridiculously long time since I last blogged. I’m not going to explain or give excuses, I’m just going to pick up where I left off.

So anyways, I recently created an illustration relating to the novel Madame Bovary. You know why? Because ever since I finished reading it a couple months ago, I’ve been obsessed. Every once in awhile you find a book that sticks in your brain long after you put the book down. Madame Bovary is one of those books for me.

I felt a profound empathy and understanding for Emma. I know a lot of people find her more selfish and bratty than understandable. Perhaps my own selfish and bratty side found myself relating to her. I love to read about flawed and misguided characters, especially female characters. Virtuous characters bore me. I want some bad decisions and tormented moods!

I was first introduced to the awesomeness that is Madame Bovary through the graphic novel, “Gemma Bovery” by Posy Simmonds. It was first written as a serial in The Guardian, but I happened upon it at the library after it’s publication as a graphic novel. I recall reading it right through and admiring both the story and the brilliant artwork.

Read this. It’s amazing.
Posy_Simmons_Gemma_Bovery

The graphic novel piqued my interest for the original novel that inspired it. I finally got around to reading the original Madame Bovary a few months ago, and I am annoyed with myself for not reading it sooner.

Read this too. It is also amazing.
Madame-Bovary

So, I felt inspired and created this scene entitled, “Rodolphe’s Letter.”

You can click this image to see a somewhat larger version.
madamebovary_full

Detail 1
madamebovary_detail1

Detail 2
madamebovary_detail2

A very nice coworker of mine gave me some gorgeous antique frames, so I plan to frame this piece as well as creating others to frame. I can’t decide whether I want to keep exploring Madame Bovary, or try out illustrations of other great works of literature. A Jane Eyre illustration would be fun to try out…

I get so inspired by great works of literature. Reading is fun!