Friday, May 30, 2008

The Juvenile's Introduction to Greek Mythology

So I could talk about literature with my book buddy, I read Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief. In the phone message he left me, he suggested that I would really like the book, about a pre-teen who finds out he's a demigod, the son of Poseidon and a mortal woman. I have to agree with him; I did very much enjoy the novel. For juvenile readers, it serves as a good introduction to Greek mythology; many characters that appear also appear in the mythological stories we study in school, all with a modern take. The author has made it plausible for the reader to reasonably suspend disbelief saying that the gods move as Western Civilization moves, then offers evidence in the form of Greek gods moved from Greece to Rome, to Europe, and are now taking up residence in America: Olympus being at the top of the Empire State Building, and Hades being in Los Angeles. Interesting commentary on how the author (and possibly the residents of the nation) view the United States.

One of the interesting things that either Chiron or Grover explains to Percy (short for Perseus who was one of the many mortal sons of Zeus) that the Greeks influenced culture all around the world. I remember studying about Greek architecture in 7th grade, Mrs. Greer's class. Doric, Ionian and Corinthian columns, specifically. Look around, though. He's right. Greek influence is everywhere.

The purpose of this post is to outline the juvenile's introduction to Greek mythology as the title suggests, so I'm going to do just that.
  • Demigod: half god, half mortal. The archetypal hero is a demigod. Hercules is the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. Our protagonist, Percy Jackson, is the son of Poseidon (god of the sea) and a mortal woman. One of our protagonist's friends, Annabeth is the daughter of Athena (goddess of wisdom) and a mortal man. These characters are not immortal, but posses powers that normal mortals do not.
  • The Furies: They are the Roman incarnation of the Greek Erinyes. They are thought to dwell in Tartarus, where they torture the souls there when they're not making sure the order of things is just in the world. It is thought that the furies were sprang from the blood of Ouranos (the father of Kronos and the Titans).
  • The three old women knitting socks = the Fates. The fates are three women who control the fate, if you will, of all beings. Gods included. The first sister, Clotho, spins the line. The second sister, Lachesis, measures the line with her rod, and the third sister, Atropos, cuts the line. It is the shearing of the line that causes death. Percy sees these women on the side of the road and witness the cutting of someone's line.
  • Satyr: The satyr has had a few incarnations throughout mythology, but for the purposes of the novel, satyrs are half man, half goat. Traditionally they are followers of Pan (who can be as mischievous as Loki or Kokopelli) and Dionysus (who I've always known better as his Roman counterpart, Bacchus). They are lovers: of women, of boys, of music, of outdoors, and, being followers of Dionysus, wine. Percy's friend Grover is a reed pipe carrying satyr charged with protecting our protagonist from the "Kindly Ones." (a euphemism for the Furies)
  • The Minotaur: part man, part bull, this mythological character dwelt in a labyrinth that belonged to King Minos (see the resemblance in nomenclature?). The maze was built by Daedalus and Icarus to hold the minotaur. In mythological stories, Theseus killed the minotaur. Interestingly, the Minotaur's father, the Cretan bull, appeared in one of the 12 labors of Heracles.
  • Chiron: a centaur--half man, half horse. In the mythology, Chiron is the antithesis of a centaur being a "civilized" creature that didn't indulge in many of the same vices as the satyrs. In The Lightning Thief, Chiron plays his part as the archetypal mentor well. (I'll address archetype at a later date.)
  • Charon, not to be confused with Chiron. Charon is the ferryman of the dead. When our heroes are in Los Angeles, at DOA (which if you didn't know is an acronym for Dead on Arrival, clever, no?) he is who they meet at the desk taking money to ferry people across the River Styx. If a soul came to the underworld without money for the ferry, he or she was left on the banks (or our modern waiting room) for 100 years before he or she could cross to the underworld.
  • Chimera is another one of those mixed-breed animals. According to the Iliad, the Chimera had the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the hind end of a snake. In the incarnation in The Lightning Thief this animal can breathe fire, and has poison in its tail. In mythology it is the sibling of Cerberus, the three headed dog that guards the gates of the underworld, and the Lernaean Hydra (both of whom appear in Heracles's labors).
  • The Underworld. Also known as Hades. It is split into a number of factions. In the novel, Hades says that he's had to expand because of the number of souls he'd been getting. Here is a rough map of the places in the Underworld.
  • Medusa was one of the three Gorgons. They had snakes for hair and turned people to stone by looking at them. Medusa was the only one of the three sisters that was once beautiful. She was turned into the ugly Gorgon we know after she desecrated Athena's temple with Poseidon. In the stories, and in the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans, she was beheaded by Percy's namesake, Perseus.
  • Lotus Casino = the island of the Lotus Eaters, and the casino is rightfully located in Las Vegas. People go and don't want to leave. Hello, Homer. In the novel, the kids go to the Lotus Casino, get LotusCash and play video games forever.
You will notice that I didn't discuss any of the gods here. This was done for a couple of reasons. The gods are easy to find information about. I wanted to discuss the modernization of the mythological elements.

Coming soon, analysis of the archetype of the hero journey in The Lightning Thief.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Something Faster This Way Comes

In retrospect, I forgot to mention that this book is broken up into three parts: Part I, Arrivals; Part II, Pursuits; and Part III, Departures. Since my last reflection, we have found some action. It's interesting to note that Bradbury writes very short chapters in this book, possibly as a way of propelling the reader from one situation into the next. The beginning was mainly exposition--introduction of characters, tendencies, to get us wondering about this out of place carnival.

Since then, we've discovered that the carousel changes the ages of the riders, older or younger, depending upon which way it's running. Age seems to be the recurring symbol throughout the novel so far... The carousel runs backwards and makes people younger, Will threatens Jim with "I'll remember this when" (he's older). The school teacher, Ms. Foley was entranced with herself in the mirror, younger. This is, possibly, what trapped the other woman in the ice, which Charles Halloway found as a puddle on his way home. The only reason I offer this as conjecture is that the mirrors have been previously compared to ice; people felt cold coming out of the maze of mirrors.

The one thing I'm having trouble making out at this point is the reading but not reading, seeing but not seeing, and hearing but not hearing. I think my confusion occurs in the diction. Bradbury chooses to say "seeing but not seeing" instead of saying "looking but not seeing." I don't know if he was going for something specific with the repetition of the words, or if he was simply trying to imply that no one was really paying attention to what was going on around them and I'm reading too much into it. The distinction is not as obvious as in Faulkner's Light in August where he distinguishes by saying a character is thinking something, thinking something else that appears in italics. So I don't know. Perhaps with further reading the understanding will come.

Interestingly, with all this seeing but not seeing, people only briefly questioned the lateness of the carnival, then went blindly on to "enjoy" it. And how many people, like Will, Jim and Miss Foley, took home cards for a free turn on the carousel when it's "fixed"? And what exactly happened to that woman in the ice? Was she real or simply a temptation indudged by the man peddling lightening rods for a storm that didn't come? Of course the storm the lightning-rod-man predicted could be metaphoric, representing the invasion of the carnival.

And in keeping with the discussion of figurative language, at the end of Chapter 13, where the mirror maze is discussed, and Charles Halloway is seeing but choosing not to see the puddle of water on the floor the maze is waiting "for so much as a bird to come look, see, and fly away shrieking. But no bird came" (56). Single bird. Not flock of birds. A flock of birds flying away is symbolic of danger. A single bird, however, is a positive symbol. Here, the lack of the single bird suggests an ominous sense of danger.

Next time: Part II, Pursuit.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Modest Proposal

I recently downloaded a reading of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" from Librivox. When I did, I couldn't help but remembering the modest proposal parody that was published in The Exponent when I was student teaching. The Swift piece is a must read (or hear), and the parody is a must read. It amuses me how much controversy this particular parody caused, and how insane it was that people didn't get it. I suppose one could argue failure of the educational system for those who took the author seriously, not having been familiar with the piece she parodied.

Something Slowly This Way Comes

I started Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes sometime early in the first semester, got 15 pages in and stopped. It just didn't grab my attention right off the bat like Fahrenheit 451 did, which interested me since all over the book, people sang the praises of this "incomparable masterwork." And I, no more than three chapters in, failed to see the brilliance in the piece.

Laundry day rolled around, and not feeling like studying religious text, grabbed Something Wicked This Way Comes off the shelf. I have to admit that there are a few things that drew me to this book in the first place (in no particular order): I loved Fahrenheit 451, the book appears on at least one of my book lists, and the song from one of the Harry Potter movies. Sad, I know.

Needless to say, I'm now about nine chapters in, and still not much has happened. We meet the two main characters, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. We know that Will feels sort of estranged and possibly ashamed of his father, who is a janitor at the public library. Will refers to him initially as an "old man" but the tone does not suggest he says this in jest. We find out later that Will was born when his father was 40, and Will's mother is often mistaken for his father's daughter. We know that Jim Nightshade lives with only his mother, is one of three children but the only one still alive, and that his father was abusive. He is enthralled by the fanciful - e.g. the "theatre" on an out of the way street whose plays involve people stripping, then touching each other.

My questions so far:
  1. What is going to come of the lightning rod that Will and Jim put on top of Jim's house?
  2. Why did Will's dad crumple up the flyer for the carnival, then throw it in the fire?
  3. Echoing Will's question: Why didn't Will's father come completely clean about the carnival to his mother? What does he have to hide?
  4. What was the "ice" in the sawhorses in the empty shop where Charles Halloway stood transfixed?
  5. Will Jim loose the lightning rod, thus charring his house and his mother?

Friday, May 23, 2008

"Heart of Darkness" take 10

I must preface this post by saying that it's taken me a decade to read this story. I remember that I was supposed to read it before sophomore year (English 10X, which equates to honors British Literature). I think I spent most of that sumer working in pits for various productions, so I didn't read it. There were two professors in college who assigned the story; I recall becoming bored and stopping before getting too far into it. So this time, we'll try analysis as I go, and maybe that will get me to the end.

The beginning of the story: four men on a boat as the sun is setting. The narrator sets a morose tone, suggesting that the now absent sun was "stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men" (2-3). It's interesting that he chose to use the word "brooding" here. While brooding can mean meditative, which fits with the reflective states of the men on the yacht, it also connotes a pensiveness, suggesting a morbid type reflection on their current state.

The yacht, itself, is an archetype, symbolically a microcosm of the world. The men aboard the boat are from varying walks of life, a Director of Companies, a lawyer and an accountant. We do not yet know the occupations of Marlow and the narrator. They yacht is also symbolic of man's journey, suggesting (minus the fact that there are still about 130 pages left) that the company has quite a task ahead of them reaching the ocean at the end of the Thames, which the narrator calls "an interminable waterway" (1).

Sit back, hold on, and let's see if we can make it all the way to the ocean this time.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Final Reflections on Ghetto Nation

I didn't post near as much as I intended on this book. Because I read while my students read during school, I took notes in a notebook so I'd remember what I wanted to talk about when I actually had time to write a post. Unfortunately, that notebook has been lost somewhere in a mound of papers and binders on my desk at school, and is no help to me now, when I have the time to make the post.

I have concluded that I agree with Daniels. Ghetto is a state of mind. One that we, as a nation (not just Black people) seem to be stuck in. I remember hearing in college that if one wanted to be competetive in the workforce, one had to have a masters degree. But I look at my students and think, what is the economy going to be like when I am an elder? These children don't have the drive to pursue a master's degree, and, more often than not, don't give a hoot about the education that is being handed to them now. I can't imagine what our nation would look like if our educational system was put together similar to Mexico's or Japan's. Scary, really.

One of the realizations that stemmed from reading this book is that the deficit theory doesn't solely apply to the students here on the border. The ones who have no aspirations and feel that what was good enough for their parents is good enough for them. That's why "the projects" exist. And people get stuck there. Black, brown, green, yellow... every ethnicity has their own version of the deficit theory. And for some, it's complacency.

I want to call for change. I want to talk to my people, and the people I teach and tell them that there is more to life than "ghetto." I want to tell them that the world is bigger than where you live. There's is life outside the projects. There is live outside BorderTown, New Mexico.

Can you hear me now?

Planet eBook

This isn't a shameless plug, since I have no personal stock in the website, but I recently StumbledUpon this website Planet eBook. Neat website; it has free classic books in PDF format. The books are probably ones, like on the Librivox website, that are currently in the public domain. Planet eBooks houses such titles as Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," Stoker's Dracula, and James Joyce's novel Ulysses. Navigate on over there and check it out!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sex Sells

Which came first? The chicken or the egg? The talk about the commercialization of hip hop reminded me of the Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan movie Brown Sugar. Diggs's character had problems staying in the industry after his firm signs a multi-racial group Rin and Tin, the Hip Hop Dalmations. This after finding Mos Def's character, who is a "real" emcee. Daniels talks about the commercialization of hip hop, how it perpetuates the ghetto lifestyle, talking about "babymamas" and having "on the side" relationships, and how that is deemed acceptable more than something to be ashamed of (thank you Usher). It makes emcees like Aesop Rock and Flobots (interestingly, neither group is of African-American heritage).

Hip hop isn't the only music being commercialized. Are there any people dedicated to an art form anymore? Daniels's brother is a jazz musician. If I play Bird or Mingus in my classroom, I usually meet some sort of protest. But its the most exposure many students get to a dying music. Two guys I played with when I was a kid have died already. And as they're dying, the music is dying with them. I've even seen the change in the music. When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis. There, I was introduced to some great players -- be bop, latin, big band, vocal. But now, the market has changed, and that's not what people want to hear anymore, and like a good business, it changed its music to cater to what the masses want. "Jazz" now is what I always called "elevator music." You know (or maybe you don't) the saccharine sounds of Candy Dulfer, Dave Koz or Kenny G.

But I teach the mindless youth of America. When they say "Miss, play hip hop," and I play Aesop Rock, they say "Play good hip hop." Of course, I think Aesop Rock is good hip hop. But they want Akon (Konvicked) or Usher (Confessions). Anything that perpetuates the misogynistic ideals of a disintegrating culture of TV raised children. That's ghetto.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Everything Ember

I forgot this was in my header. I guess it's a good thing I look at my own page once in a while.

Since that header has changed, my book buddy and I have read the entire Ember series: City of Ember, People of Sparks and The Prophet of Yonwood. I have to tell you honestly, I loved the first book and the series, and the second all the way up to the end. I mean, hooray for Doon and recreating electricity, it was only a matter of time from the time he found that book on science experiments, but I wanted to know what happened next.

I understand, as a writer and a teacher of reading. The book ended with an air of hope. It made you want to go out and get the third one. Then it left you a little disappointed when you found out that the third was a prequel. Go, DuPrau, though for clearing up that notebook's red herring from the first book. I guess she had that all planned out from the start.

By the way, I forgot to mention that I have a book buddy. My book buddy is my 10 year old cousin. He and I read the same books and talk about them over the phone. It's pretty cool. I'm going to refer to him as The Man.

"Oh, Bootyful for Spacious Thighs"

Now that class is over for all of two weeks, I've got some time to do recreational reading again. Currently, I'm working on Restaurant at the End of the Universe, The Bhagavad-Gita, and I've gone back to Cora Daniels's Ghetto Nation, which is the subject of today's post.

As I probably have said before, the premise of Daniels's book is that "ghetto" is not a class or a place so much anymore as it is a mindset. It is a concept that so many people have internalized that the word doesn't just apply to the neighborhood where the Jews were contained or the run-down place that the Blacks live(d).

The first affirmation of the first chapter is "at it's heart...ghetto is thinking short-term instead of long-term. Today is most important because tomorrow doesn't matter" (28). I remember hearing something like that in church as a kid--live like today may be your last because tomorrow isn't promised. So as I read this section, I think about how I live and how I see my students living (because they are the people in my life right now I have the most contact with). I try my best to show them that there is something to be done after high school. I talk about how I'm in college and the things I have to do in class. And yet, these kids judge status by the size of their cell phone. And "I've got (this many) texts saved in my inbox." But bringing a pencil or pen and some paper to class is out of the question.

They think: I have chosen the path of least resistance. The path that will require me to have to have two minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. And maybe I'll get pregnant. Then I can go on Welfare. There is no Plan B. And they're the victims of their own lives. Of course, they don't realize that they're making a choice. They don't make life, life happens to them. If that's not ghetto, I don't know what is.