Ya filthy animal

I’ve never read the Harry Potter books; as a kid I was a little bit of a hipster and thought that too many people liked it so it must be a bit shit (which admittedly wasn’t great logic given The Simpsons was also hugely popular).

I wound up watching all the movies for the first time in lock-down last year because I started dating someone who’s pretty into them (she’s also made me watch Con Air – I’ve given a lot to this relationship), and one thing I’ll say is that Nagini is an adorable name for a pet snake no matter your thoughts on Voldemort (Seven is a lot of books, I was a pretty lazy kid/teen, I was never going to make that kind of commitment to any one series).

Anyway, since my Animals Have Eerie Powers blogpost over two years ago, other animals who are enchanted or just have a proven ability to fuck shit up have continued popping up here and there in short stories/novellas I’ve been reading. So let’s add to that list now shall we?!

The Murder of Rue Morgue (Edgar Allan Poe, 1841)

Homicide investigators are too quick to dismiss the possibility that sometimes the murderer is in fact an escaped pet orangutan of a local sailor, and that’s just sad.

In this story, the narrator makes a new chum at the library called, C. Auguste Dupin. They gab about their shared interest in analysis and the importance of insignificant details, and later on when the unprecedented murder of Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter, Mademoiselle Camille is all over the papers, these two hardy boys team up and blow the cops minds with their conclusion. Who’s to say though whether they were too quick to overlook the possibility that that orangutan still had motive?

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865)

There’s a lot of cool animals petering around Wonderland -white rabbits in business casual, caterpillar-chillers smoking a hookah and giving sage advice about growth and such; but the Cheshire Cat has the ability to disappear and reappear and is basically everything you’d want in a guardian angel. He grins over you, he gives you reliable directions, plus he warns you on the beginning of your quest to watch out for how odd everybody else is.

Heart of a dog (Mikhail Bulgakov, 1925)

Starting from the perspective of a stray dog in Moscow (who’s given the name Sharik by a typist) one day he follows home a man who has given him some food. This man is a scientist called Professor Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky, and after keeping Sharik pampered in his apartment for several days the professor performs an operation where he replaces Sharik’s pituitary gland and testicles with those of a recently deceased human.

From this point the story is told through the professor’s notes of Sharik’s progression as he gradually becomes a very hairy human. It not as cute as it sounds though – as Sharik evenually becomes the drunk disappointing drop-kick son that the professor regrets, and ultimately turns back into a dog.

Saint Katy the Virgin (John Steinbeck, 1936)

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I read this in a Mcsweeney’s; the cover had Alfred Hitchcock and Ray Bradbury fist fighting in Heaven so naturally I went for it at the second-hand bookshop [the collection’s a mix of old short stories from an out-of-print Hitchcock spooky story collection called Stories Not for the Nervous, with a Bradbury collection, Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow].

This story was one of Bradbury’s and was originally published in Steinbeck’s collection, The Long Valley. and the moral of this story is essentially this, if you find yourself a victim of a rabid pig attack you best recourse of action is to try and baptise sed pig.

Saint Katy is a pet pig of a local jerk called Roark whose evil disposition rubs off on his pet pig. One day just to be an asshole, Roark donates his pig to two priests who are out tithing, and when they go to pick her up from the pen, Katy attacks and has them climbing up a tree in fear of their lives. Out of desperation they figure why not try baptising her and from that moment she’s a good girl and stops attempting to maul them.

Between Sea and Sky (Kirsty Logan, 2020)

This short story is from a recent collection, Hag, in which forgotten British and Irish folklores have modern feminist retellings by eminent female writers from Britain and Ireland. It’s pretty rad, plus the original stories are in the back so you can compare them.

Between the Sea and Sky is a retelling of The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry, a 19th century Scottish ballad: and just as in the original tale, Logan’s story is about a woman whose son is a ‘Selkie’ – a shape-shifting part human, part seal.

In Logan’s rendition, the main character, Skye is an archaeologist sent to Glenecher to study a intriguing mass grave of mothers with their babies. Skye also happens to be a single mum to a baby who’s a few months old, and the small town treats her with suspicion because they’re unsure who her babies father is (fools it wasn’t any of your husbands it was a man seal!).

I don’t want to give spoilers but one thundery night her baby-daddy comes to the door and they decide to spilt custody with her baby spending half a year as a human and half under the sea – with unfortunate results.

Book Recommendations from Daria Morgendorffer’s Reading List

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My two favourite tv bookworms would probably be, Daria Morgendorffer from Daria and Mark Corrigan from Peep Show. Everyone’s favourite, Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls, shits me for one reason: I don’t think it’s realistic (regardless of her being gifted) that a teenager whose life is interesting enough that she’s in a quirky jam every week with her mother, has time to read 339 bulky and often dry as fuck classics on top of her schoolwork (give me a break, she’s just holding at least some of them to look like a boffin. I’m calling bullshit! No one under 20 is reading Ulysses unless someone’s holding a gun to their head for several months). 

Daria ran for five seasons, during which 62 books are either read, or referenced, by the brooding misfit – that’s a believable number (and I want only realistic standards for bookish types dammit! unless it’s Lisa Simpson; she’s been eight for 30 years, she can go read Gore Vidal and it not be weird that she’s in primary school).

The Simpsons Episode 25 GIF

The Simpsons Episode 25 GIF

Anyway the reason I’m bringing up every cynical teen’s hero is because I read a surprising bit of trivia recently; only seven of the 62 books Daria reads over the course of the show, are by women. 

Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with the character, this was unexpected because Daria is considered a bit of a 1990s feminist icon – and while she’s fictional, the writers/artists of the show would’ve thought carefully about what books to draw her with to best represent her personality and intellect. 

This got me thinking about my own reading habits and how I too could definitely stand to branch out and read more from different perspectives. 

It’s certainly not been an intentional choice, and this isn’t to say I don’t think the books I read aren’t varied: it’s more something I’ve noticed I could improve, especially when it comes to fiction – because in the fiction department I tend to go for old books or books regarded traditionally as classics and with that there’s a risk of complacence as well as not proactively searching for voices that were/are marginalised but are equally as worthy (or I could just read more fiction brought out in this millennia with an author who’s still alive).  

And I know out the four books I’m about to talk about from Daria’s reading list, only one is by a woman but I promise that with future blogposts I am going to make a better effort to read more diversely and have slightly less dead white guys. Anyway here are four of my favourites that the sarcastic legend is spotted reading! [Of the seven books from the list written by women, I’ve only read two and I’ve already written about Frankenstein in a previous blogpost so I didn’t want to double up] 

The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath, 1963)

A bell jar traps whatever’s displayed inside – and while transparent, the glass warps the perception of what’s outside the bell jar. This is how The Bell Jar’s protagonist, Esther Greenwood, describes the growing isolation she feels as her mental health descends – ‘under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air’. 

Told from Esther’s perspective, The Bell Jar begins with the aspiring poet (and recent college graduate) completing a summer internship in New York City for Ladies’ Day magazine. She applies for a writing program which commences immediately after the internship finishes; but following her rejection, Esther moves back to her mothers for the rest of the summer and attempts to start a novel.

However, feeling as though she has no life experience to write something meaningful, teaming with the daunting realisation that college is over and none of the limited paths she has to choose from appeal to her, Esther feels the descent of the bell jar hovering above her head and must eventually undergo electric shock therapy and analysis at the mental asylum.

This is one of those books where I feel like you’re not really going to get a lot out of reading it until life’s thrown you around a little, or you’ve at least feared that your life is directionless.

It’s embarrassing but nineteen was too young for me, and my first impression of The Bell Jar was that it was average. I couldn’t understand what had spurred Esther’s breakdown: myself being a little too immature to get that that’s part of the point – as well as failing to read it with the historical context that opportunities for women were a lot more limited then, or truly appreciate that it was written by a poet who did end her own life less than a month after it was published. In other words I’m very glad I revisited it last year.

Nausea (Jean Paul Sartre, 1938)

You know how in Rocket Man, where it’s a Saturday night and they’re at a rowdy venue and you get the sneaky suspicion that a fight is about to break out so Elton can conveniently play ‘Saturday Night’s Alright’ (oh so subtle); Nausea is kind of like that, in that Sartre’s philosophical ideas are what he wanted to primarily discuss and the story fits around those discussions.

For the French existentialist/campus legend (apparently he once turned up naked at a university event, what a mad dog), “existence precedes essence”, in other words life is all about creating meaning through action.

Like The Bell Jar, Nausea’s main fellow is a writer, called Antoine Roquentin, who is having a ponder –not just about the point of his existence, but human existence in general.

Roquentin documents every thought and sensation he has in order to fully comprehend his own existence (sounding like a writer who’s got a wee bit too much time to kill) and comes to the conclusion that there’s no reason for any of us to exist, the past is meaningless and what he’s going to do with his newfound free will is to write a novel.

The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck, 1939)

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In 1948, Stalin allowed the film adaption of The Grapes of Wrath to be released in the USSR because it depicts destitute Americans and it heavily criticises capitalism. This backfired however as Soviet citizens turned out to be impressed that even the poorest Americans owned cars.

The first time I read The Grapes of Wrath I was also nineteen (the uni library had a stellar American classics section) and I reread it again this year because 2020 hadn’t made me cry enough on its own. 

I love Steinbeck, and I know this book has received contemporary criticism for having historical inaccuracies but it still has merit regardless; you can feel Steinbeck’s raw anger like he’s talking to you and his point has that rare quality of being both of its time and equally politically pertinent now. There’s a reason he received the Nobel Prize of Literature for it and if anyone wants to tell me it wasn’t their cup of tea that’s fine but you have terrible taste and we’re going to have to take this outside!

During the Great Depression over a half a million Americans migrated west in the space of two to three years; The Grapes of Wrath focuses on a fictional Oklahoma family, the Joads, who lose their farm due to draught, recession and the introduction of tractors. Their only option is to make their way to California and try to get work fruit picking. The book follows the Joads’ journey travelling on Route 66 with everything they own in a beat up Hudson, and the disheartening reality that awaits them as migrant workers, when they finally reach California.

Breakfast of Champions (Kurt Vonnegut, 1973)

This one’s a lot more fun compared to the other books on this list – it has many delightful illustrations from Vonnegut himself and a fascinating theory about mirrors being ‘leaks’ to different dimensions – good choice Daria.

So this one splits between two strangers, Kilgore Trout – an elusive and essentially unrecognised science fiction writer, and Dwayne Hoover – a mentally unstable yet respected car dealership owner and local businessman, Dwayne eventually reads a novel by Trout, after a chance meeting at an arts festival, and takes his book literally that he (Dwayne) is the only free-willed being in the universe with dire consequences. As the narrator, Vonnegut also interjects regularly to give his hot take on life.

[Images via Triple M, Bookglow, Scoopnest, and aerogrammestudio]

Vixens

Look, we’re all human. Even the most moral of us are flawed. I’m sure, at some point in our lives, we’ve all experienced an internal struggle with choosing between the right thing to do, as opposed to the more fun/less mature course of action.

But then there are some people who take being a shit-lord up a notch. These are the types of characters in fiction who we love to hate, and whose terrible personalities/life decisions tend to be the root of the whole plot.

Here are three of my favourite female antagonists from literature who were just the worst.

 Cathy Ames (East of Eden, 1952)

I actually finished reading East of Eden two days ago. It had been a few years since I’d read anything by John Steinbeck, I forgot how much I loved his writing.

Anyway, the reason I read this book really fast was because every time I tried to put it down, Cathy would manage to do or say something, that completely topped the last previous shitty thing she did.

Who can leave a book for the night when Cathy goes and drops this line, ‘I wasn’t too tired for your brother’ – holy shit Cathy you actually said that to his face!!!!

East of Eden is beautiful and so much more than the awful things Cathy does, I’m even willing to forgive Steinbeck for calling one of the minor characters ‘Cotton Eye’ (NO! WHY! WHY DID YOU HAVE TO GET THAT BLOODY SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD!!!).

But Cathy’s storyline is what kept me so enthralled; and you know you’re dealing with a truly terrible character when this is how the introduction of her character begins,

‘I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents’

Cathy has a talent for manipulation and is easily able to make herself the object of mad obsession. I don’t want to give too much away, but she takes what she needs and gets a perverse kind of pleasure in bringing out the worst in people. She’s also really crap at hiding her true evil nature anytime she has some alcohol.

Abigail Williams (The Crucible, 1953)

The Crucible was one of my year 12 books, and it has the honour of being the only assigned reading I had in High School, that I didn’t think sucked.

My English teacher gave what is possibly the best summary of its plot when she said, ‘Abigail really shits on her own doorstep’. Yes, yes she does.

The Crucible is a fictional play of the 1692 Salem witch-trials, based loosely on historical accounts. Like the actual events, what starts the allegations is Reverend Samuel Parris catches young girls – including his daughter Betty and adopted niece Abigail, dancing in the forest around a fire with his Barbados slave, Tituba.

The girls initially deny their actions were witchcraft, yet out of fear they begin accusing their neighbours of conspiring with the Devil.

In the play, Abigail is a bit of a ring leader, and the accusations quickly become less about self preservation and driven more by revenge and hate.

Lady Macbeth (Macbeth, 1606)

Macbeth is another set text I had for High School English. I was definitely too young to get something out of it (there was a lot of immature snickering on my part, when Lady Macbeth says ‘unsex me here’).

I remember we all had to watch the Roman Polanski film adaption from the 70s. There was this scene with a whole gang of really old naked witches hanging out in a cave. I really don’t understand what anybody got out of making that scene, there’s no mention of them being naked in the original play and I had to go wash my eyes out with turps.

Anyway, Lady Macbeth is the wife of Scottish nobleman Macbeth, in the classic Shakespeare tale of why you probably shouldn’t kill a king. Lady Macbeth’s ambition is the driving force behind Macbeth stabbing the king so that he could gain the throne.