Friday, 31 January 2014

J.R.R. Tolkien's Dead Marshes - Literature of the First World War

I know I promised to talk about Henri Barbusse's Under Fire, but University has started and my time management is only slowly becoming a thing. So today, I will discuss the Dead Marshes in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Some of the pictures in this may be shocking because they show dead soldiers. In this "series" of First World War Literature, in which I am discussing a piece of literature or art, inspired by or created during the First World War up until the 28th of June, the anniversary of the assassination on Archduke Franz Ferdinand, for many marking the beginning of the First World War.

Johnathan Ronald Reuel Tolkien joined the army after finishing his degree in 1915 and was shipped to France in 1916. There, he was placed at the Somme, one of the most intense battles in the First World War. Using his language skills, he created a secret code to keep hi wife Edith up to date with where on the front he was. Many of his friends died in battle, but Tolkien's poor health meant he was returned to England. Critics often look for parallels to the Second World War, but he himself has stated he has been much more influenced by the First, considering he was young then. One of the passages that shows this is from the chapter 'Passage Through the Marshes' from The Two Towers.

Tolkien himself has admitted in letters that part of the Dead Marshes are inspired by what he saw at the Somme. Trench warfare had a catastrophic effect on the landscape of France. Grenades and bombs created craters and gullies that both provided shelter for incoming fire but were also inescapable death traps.The novel discussed last week,  All Quiet on the Western Front, also describes this scenery vividly, presenting it to the reader as a quiet graveyard. The dead soldiers could sometimes not be retrieved so stayed there, exposed to the elements. The gullies and craters filled up with water over time and became cesspools for diseases. The phrase No Man's Land couldn't have been more applicable, since no one could have lived in this wasteland that was the ultimate symbol of the destruction Man can wreak.
The hobbits soon found that what had looked like one vast fen was really an endless network of pools, and soft mires, and winding half-strangled water-courses. ... It was dreary and wearisome. Cold clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long-forgotten summers. 
The passage above is where Tolkien overs his astute description of the wasteland caused by War. The Dead Marshes are part of Dagorlad, the battle field where the battle of the Last Alliance against the forces of Mordor and lies north of the Black Gate. At this point in the trilogy, Frodo and Sam have forced Smeagol into being their guide to Mordor and they have to cross the Marshes. Hobbits are cheerful creatures, but this place strikes them as 'dreary and wearisome'. A stench of death hangs over these Marshes and to them it feels like a 'forsaken country'. Tolkien here possibly describes the complete feeling of abandonment that must have come over the soldiers in France and all over the Western Front. It is 'winter' there, nothing can live or grow, nothing good can come from it. The only 'weed' that survives' is 'livid', as if the rage that changed the country has sunken into the ground and poisoned it forever. Everything that does grow is 'dead' and 'rotting' and reminds Frodo and Sam of 'long-forgotten summers'. The Marshes remind them of the potential that the ground holds, but that is corrupted by Mankind.

There was a faint hiss, a noisome smell went up, the lights flickered and danced and swirled. For a moment the water below him looked like some window, glazed with grimy glass, through which he was peering. Wrenching his hands out of the bog, he sprang back with a cry. 
'There are dead things, dead faces in the water,' he said with horror. 'Dead faces!' Gollum laughed. 
'The Dead Marshes, yes, yes: that is their names,' he cackled. 'You should not look in when the candles are lit.' 
'Who are they? What are they?' asked Sam shuddering, turning to Frodo, who was now behind him. 
'I don't know,' said Frodo in a dreamlike voice. 'But I have seen them too. In the pools when the candles were lit. They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead. A fell light is in them.' Frodo hid his eyes in his hands. 'I know not who they are; but I thought I saw there Men and Elves, and Orcs beside them.'
'Yes, yes,' said Gollum. 'All dead, all rotten. Elves and Men and Orcs. The Dead Marshes. There was a great battle long ago, yes, so they told him when Smeagol was young, when I was young before the Precious came. It was a great battle. Tall Men with long swords, and terrible Elves, and Orcses shrieking. They fought on the plain for days and months at the Black Gates. But the Marshes have grown since then, swallowed up the graves; always creeping, creeping.' 
It is not only the nature that has been corrupted in the Dead Marshes. Not even the Dead are allowed to rest. Their 'pale, 'grim' and 'noble' faces stare up to the empty sky like an accusation. The evil that was there does not allow them their final peace. They are 'all foul, all rotting, all dead'. I want to extent this phrase a bit further and also apply it to the survivors. Experiencing something like the First World War leaves a mark on a person and all three authors discussed so far, Owen, Sassoon and Remarque, have written about this. All of their characters carry the burden of their experiences, of what they have seen, and feel themselves as if they are slowly decaying. The 'great battle' Smeagol talks about is the one in which Sauron was "defeated". It was a righteous war, a necessary war, but all that remains are all the dead. According to Smeagol, the Marshes 'have grown since then', have 'swallowed up the graves' and will continue to creep on. The Marshes here possibly personify the growing danger of War and nationalism, the creeping evil that you one day find has overtaken your lands and then it is too late.

This is one of the reasons why I do this series, for myself and perhaps for anyone who reads it. These kinds of dangers are constant, ever-present. We haven't forgotten the Wars, but sometimes I think we forget the complete and utter destruction that comes along with it. Not only are the lands corrupted, but so are the minds and spirits of those involved. In all the works I have read so far, the War has been nothing but destructive. Although there is camaraderie and touching moments, these battles change the course of humanity and influence an entire generation to the core. Even the hobbits walking through these Marshes, centuries removed from the Great Battle, feel its echo and see its consequences.

Have you read The Lord of the Rings? What did you think of 'The Passage Through the Marshes'.

Next week, I promise to write about Barbusse's Under Fire.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Booking Through Thursday - Multi-Tasking

btt buttonIt's another Thursday which means it's time for another Booking Through Thursday, hosted by Deb over at BTT. This week is all about multi-tasking, which is a perfect question since University just started again and I'm already trying to find time to do my Uni reading and Blog reading. The question is:

Do you do other things while you read?Watch TV? Cook? Brush your teeth? Knit?
I have tried knitting once, which convinced me that I should definitely have my whole attention focused on the needles in my hand. They may not be sharp but they can still hurt if you're as clumsy as me. So knitting would be a no.

With me it is probably more a question of do I read while I do other things. I'm usually busy running about etc. but because I always have my Kindle with me I'm usually reading on the bus, train, sometimes even while walking which provides whole new challenges. I do read while I cook because watching pasta boil really isn't that fascinating. I do also take my Kindle to the gym with me every once in a while but not too often because they don't appreciate me just sitting on their equipment because I have forgotten I was on a bicycle while reading. One of my favourite things actually is putting something in the oven and then leaning against it because it is nice and warm and you can pretend you're watching the oven while reading. But when I'm reading something tricky or intense I do have to shut everything else out, just because I want to actually take in every word. There is nothing worse than having to reread a sentence 10 time because its meaning keeps escaping you.

What I always do while reading is listen to soundtrack music. Some of Howard Shore's The Lord of the Rings soundtrack in the background goes surprisingly well with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Do you do other things while you read? I'm going to copy Deb here and advise you to not read while driving! That's why audio books were invented.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Teaser Tuesday - 'The Well of Loneliness' by Radclyffe Hall

TTeIt has been ages since I did a Teaser Tuesday although it's one of my favourite memes! There's nothing I love more than seeing snippets from books because I always want to read more! Anyway, Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading!

This week I'm using a book I've been reading for months now. Sometimes you just encounter a book you really like, but because you seem to always run out of time you never get to finish it. But I sort of like the prolonged happiness of reading this book. It's The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. Hall was a fascinating person, I highly recommend Googling her!
'She spoke wildly, scarcely knowing what she said; she only knew that she needed this woman with a need so intense, that worthy or unworthy, Angela was all that counted at the moment.' p.167
I think we can all agree that sounds pretty intense. I don't think I've ever loved anyone that passionately and it sounds rather terrifying if I'm honest! But I do love the way the sentence is completely constructed around wanting Angela. There is literally no way of avoiding her in this sentence.

So, what are you teasing with? Leave a link in the comments and I'll drop by :)

Monday, 27 January 2014

Music Monday - Duke and 'On the Road'

Music Monday is a meme hosted by Total Book Geek where you have to:
  • Choose a book or a scene from a book.
  • Choose a song that fits said book or scene.
  • Tell us why you paired them together.
  • Don't forget to share the title and author.
  • Be careful not to include spoilers!

This is my first time doing this meme so I'm just going to pick a book I'm sort of reading at the moment, On The Road by Jack Kerouac. It is one of those classics that I feel I'm obliged to read as an English student, even though it's an American novel. I have only just started and the main character, Salvatore Paradise (what a name!), has just set of to New Orleans. So I thought I'd go predictable and choose a jazz song! And where better to go then to Duke Ellington?

So, what song have you picked and why? Leave a link in the comments and I'll drop by  :)

Friday, 24 January 2014

Book Blogger Hop, Follow Friday and other memes

Book Blogger HopIt's another Friday and it's time for me to start rejoining some memes because I've missed them!

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer and Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's BBH question is:

Do you think you will ever read every book on your TBR list?

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowMost definitely not. The list just keeps growing and expanding and has taken on a life of its own. Not only is there an actual pile and an actual list, there is also a mental list that grows by the minute. But I think I like it that way. I will never run out of books I want to read, books I can read and books I am looking forward to. I can't imagine how I feel when I've run out of books to read, but it has to be a pretty terrible feeling because what would I do with my life?

This weeks FF question only adds to my TBR pile:
What books are you looking forward to reading in 2014?

So many, it's ridiculous. But here are a random ten:

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (I have already started it but this novel is so long it hardly counts)
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Watership Down by Joseph Adams
Candide by Voltaire
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Call of Wild by Jack London
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Paradise Lost by John Milton
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

This week I'm using All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque for these two memes. I just read and reviewed (review here)  it for my "serie" 'Literature of the First World War' which I'm doing until the 28th of June this year. It is also part of my 100 Classics.

'We are at rest five miles behind the front. Yesterday we were relieved, and now our bellies are full of beef and haricot beans. We are satisfied and at peace.'
I think this beginning is incredibly strong. Most people who start this book know that it is about the War and its effect on soldiers. These first three sentences are both simple and almost cruel. The narrator is happy when his stomach is full and he is at rest, but it is the last time in the novel he is satisfied or at peace.

'We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial--I believe we are lost.'
This is a very good example of the honesty of the novel. The narrator and author are convinced that these soldiers are partially ruined by the war, alienated from their families and ordinary life and lost. It moved me to tears.

So, how about you? Do you think you'll ever be done with your TBR pile?

'All Quiet on the Western Front' by Erich M. Remarque - Literature of the First World War

Another timely installment of my "series" of First World War Literature. In the last two posts I discussed English poets describing their experiences during the First World War, so this week I decided to read something from "the other side", Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (German: Im Westen Nichts Neues).

Erich Maria Remarque was born in  1898 and died in 1970, a veteran of the First World War and one of the world's greatest war authors. Although he has written many other novels, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) is his best known novel. Seeing active service during the First World War, he fled the country during the Second, his works banned and himself publicly decried as a Jew and liar until his citizenship was revoked and he fled to the United States. His sister was executed for "undermining morale". I chose the synopsis below from Amazon rather than Goodreads, because I severely disagreed with the one there.
Remarque Im Westen nichts Neues 1929.jpgOne by one the boys begin to fall...
In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the 'glorious war'. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young 'unknown soldier' experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.
All Quiet on the Western Front is an incredible read. I went in not quite sure what to expect. I had heard it was a classic and a must-read, but that is said about a lot of novels. In this case, however, it is most definitely true. The First World War was the war that changed warfare forever. On the one hand there were still horses and bayonets, but also gas attacks and tanks. The Western Front was a particular hell for soldiers. The German von Schlieffen plan failed, causing a trench-war to break out that lasted four years and burned names such as Ypres, de Somme and Verdun into Europe's cultural memory. The soldiers of Remarque's novel find themselves in these trenches.

Remarque's novel was a massive success upon its publication because it hit close to the hearts of an entire generation of men who grew up fighting. The terrible truth told in the novel is not that war is pointless or that those making the decisions are wrong, but that what a soldier experiences changes him forever and in many cases destroyed them despite surviving the bombs and bullets. When the novel's protagonist, Paul Bäumer, returns home on leave from the front, the reader is confronted with this reality. 
'A terrible feeling of foreignness suddenly rises up in me. I cannot find my way back, I am shut out though I entreat earnestly and put forth all my strength.' p.81
Remarque's writing brings Paul's feelings of isolation and hopelessness right to the forefront of the novel. He is lost and alone when he is not at the Front fighting with his comrades. The life we as a reader think of as normal, is as foreign to him as his reality is to us and that is what war does to a soldier. It makes a soldier a foreigner in his own life. These instances in the novel where these feelings are brought close to the reader are heart-breaking in their honesty.

'Albert expresses it: 'The War has ruined us for everything." He is right. We are not youth any longer. We don't want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war.' p.42
The reason I chose the above passage, is because it reveals another very important aspect of the novel. Although Paul is talking about himself and his experiences here, he says 'we'. The camaraderie between the soldiers is palpable, the brotherhood that is created by the experience of death and disease is the strongest foundation any of the characters have. This makes the deaths in the novel traumatic not only for the other characters but also for the reader because the familiar faces seem to hold the violence of the novel at bay. The violence is an aspect of the novel I didn't know how to prepare for. Some parts of the fighting are glossed over, only to be described in detail later. Every part of the warfare is described, but so are the consequences. There is nothing glorified about fighting when two pages later shattered joints and brain matter are spread across the floor.

What I wasn't expecting while reading the novel was the similarity in description between Remarque's novel and Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est. The soldiers trudging along, blind and dumb to their surroundings, the shouts of 'Gas!' and the horror of a comrade dying in front of you both feature in the novel and poem. Although they fought at different sides, against each other even, the German Remarque and the British Owen use the same words, the same intensity to bring their points across. What this means to me is that an experience such as the First World War does level all the differences between people. Remarque describes this in the novel as well, the strange fact that there is no conflict between the soldiers and yet they kill each other and die together at a word and instantly stopped on Armistice Day.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

There is so much more to write about this novel and I most definitely will, but for now I will leave it at this. All Quiet on the Western Front has definitely been the most challenging read so far and has brought me close to tears. But I think it is important to confront yourself with the reality of War, especially since soldiers are still fighting all around the world, being affected in a similar way. Understanding their experience will go a long way in forming an informed opinion on war.

Next week, Henri Barbusse's Under Fire: The Story of a Squad.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Booking Through Thursday - Hated

btt buttonI haven't done a proper book meme in ages and thought to myself that Booking Through Thursday would be the perfect way to start again. Booking Through Thursday is hosted by BTT and this week the question is:

If there was one book you could make sure no on ever read again...what would it be? And why?

On the first glance, this seems like a rather easy question because everyone has books they dislike, but do I never want it to be read again? Whereas I'd be happy with Twilight disappearing from my library, even from that novel something can be learned, i.e. never base your entire life around a man because nothing but misery will follow. Also, marriage and pregnancy aren't all they're made out to be.

93136But I don't think I've ever read a book that had nothing redeemable about it. Sure, some books have very obvious flaws but most of them at least have a fun idea at their core or lead you on to whole new genres which you'd never explored before. Also, people simply have different tastes and something I hate might be someone else's favourite thing. A book I severely disliked is The Italian by Ann Radcliffe. Lord, never have I been this annoyed by a book. I didn't even manage to finish it, because there's only so many pages of Radcliffe waxing lyrical about the moon or the female heroine fainting that I can read. 
From the first moment Vincentio di Vivaldi, a young nobleman, sets eyes on the veiled figure of Ellena, he is captivated by her enigmatic beauty and grace. But his haughty and manipulative mother is against the match and enlists the help of her confessor to come between them. Schedoni, previously a leading figure of the Inquisition, is a demonic, scheming monk with no qualms about the task, whether it entails abduction, torture—or even murder.
But although I really dislike this book, I wouldn't actively try to dissuade anyone from reading it. I might not encourage them to, but if they did decide to attempt it I wouldn't kick them out of my house for it...probably.

So, is there a book you want to delete from public history?

Friday, 17 January 2014

'Hero' by Siegfried Sassoon - Literature of the First World War

This is the second post in the "series" of Literature of the First World War, in which I am discussing a piece of literature or art, inspired by or created during the First World War up until the 28th of June, the anniversary of the assassination on Archduke Franz Ferdinand, for many marking the beginning of the First World War. Last week, I discussed Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce et Decorum Est' and this week it is his friend's turn.

Siegfried Sassoon, born in 1886, was in service on the first day of the First World War. Although his initial poetry revealed a lot of Romantic influences, the experiences in the trenches got to him and, similarly to Owen, introduced a new sense of realism into his poetry. Sassoon himself was marked for rather reckless yet heroic actions, such as capturing a German trench in the Hindeburg-line singlehanded. But rather than report this victory, he sat down and read poetry before returning to his own camp. These kind of actions garnered him respect among his fellow soldiers, but betrayed an almost suicidal intent on advancement. With this in mind, I want to discuss his poem 'Hero'.

In the poem 'Hero', Sassoon shows the reader a mother receiving the news of her son's death from one of his comrades. The very first sentence, 'Jack fell as he'd have wished' reveals a delusion on not only the mother's side but also on society's. No one wishes to die violently, especially not in a war, and believing that they do makes parents send their children off blindly. By capitalizing 'Mother', Sassoon makes her not only the soldier's mother but also makes her a personification of Britain and its soldiers her children. Therefore it is Britain that says this sentence and deludes itself about its children. By folding up the letter sent to her, she resigns herself to the lie she has been fed, saying 'the Colonel writes so nicely'. By wrapping up a horrible truth in nice words, the Colonel manages to lull the mother into a false sense of comfort. However, the mother has a 'tired voice', as if everything up to that point has only been a long struggle, the inevitable end of which almost brings a kind of relief to her for which she feels guilty. Her voice becomes a 'choke; because in accepting the version of her son's death she has received, she prevents herself from speaking out.

'She half looked up. "We mothers are so proudOf our dead soldiers." Then her face was bowed.' 
As the above two lines show, the poem is written in rhyming couplets which is very effective in bringing across moral lessons quickly. The mother's statement about her feelings leads to her 'bowed' head, to her taking a submissive pose as if she has been defeated. The archetypal picture of a mother defending her children is here undermined and leads to her subsuming herself with all the other mothers. Not only do the soldiers become faceless pawns in a game.  This style also possibly mimics the loud headlines on newspapers, shouting propaganda at the reader, trying to convince them of a justification of the War. Sassoon was a big critic of the way propaganda was falsely influencing the people, and the rest of the poem serves to underline the falseness behind official communication.

The 'Brother Officer' that delivered the news is made part of the grieving family and the Mother's loss is also his. Again, the country is presented as a big family, which means that each loss is a personal one. The mother is a 'poor old dear' to him to which he can tell 'gallant lies'. This means that the "home front" as it was called, was completely removed from the realities of War, unaware of the real problems with which the soldiers were battling. When he describes that he 'coughed and mumbled', Sassoon seems to try to tell the reader that the soldier wasn't comfortable or secure in the lie, yet the mother's eyes 'had shone with gentle triumph'. She did not need to hear the lie because she had already been feeding it to herself. Not only, therefore, is the Mother deceived, she is willfully doing it to herself. She takes pleasure and 'joy' in the way 'her glorious boy' had gone, as if some of his bravery reflects back onto her. However, another interpretation could be that the alliteration of the repeated 'b' in these last two lines shows the hardly restrained sorrow on the mother's side. The eyes are brimming with tears and she is blubbering rather than shining.

The third stanza is written from the soldier's point of view, thinking of 'Jack'. By putting the name between quotation marks, Sassoon de-personifies him and makes him a stocktype for all soldiers. On the other hand, he himself was known as 'Mad Jack' for his reckless actions and the description of 'cold-footed, useless swine' may therefore reflect on himself as well. All of them were terrified and unaware of what they were supposed to do, which led to the 'panicked' running and neglecting the 'mine' that had 'blown [him] to small bits'. The supposed message he has given to the Mother, is clearly different from the stark reality which is given to the reader in these lines. Not only did Jack try to injure himself in order to be 'sent home', he had died alone and miserable rather than a hero's death, admired by all. 'no one seemed to care' for the boys dying every single day. As a final rhyming couplet, this is extremely strong.

'And no one seemed  to care,Except that lonely woman with white hair.'
It is very similar to the propaganda shouts, calling for men to stand up to defend their mothers, sisters and wives. The reality that is never explained is the mourning for these women, who are left behind alone, since all the men are off to war, and ageing with sorrow. Sassoon is considered one of the great War Poets because of the reality of the War he reveals in his poetry. Similarly to Owen, a close friend of his, he reveals the disconnect between the truth in the trenches and the truth at home. His poem leaves it perfectly in the middle where the blame could possibly lie. Both the soldier and the Colonel are lying, but so are the newspapers, both slowly making it impossible for the other to reveal the truth.

Next to 'Hero', 'Sherston's Progress' is another famous work by Sassoon, the final work in a semi-autobiographical trilogy about his experiences. 

Next week, Erich Maria Remarque's 'All Quiet on the Western Front'.

Friday, 10 January 2014

'Dulce et Decorum Est' by Wilfred Owen - Literature of the First World War

It is now the tenth day of 2014 and soon it will be a century since the start of the War to end all Wars, the frischer fröhlicher Krieg, the Grande Guerre. This war was unlike any Europe had seen before, encompassing all of the continent into a conflict that costs it an immeasurable amount of lives, only to be repeated and intensified twenty years later. Naturally, this had a massive effect on the people's minds at the time and some of its best literature has roots in this period. Up until the 28th of June 2014, I will be posting about a literary work linked to the First World War every Friday.

First up, is the poet Wilfred Owen. Born in 1893, Owen was 21 when the First World War started. He was sent to the front line twice, returning to Edinburgh after the first time with shell shock, which is where he wrote most of his poems. He returned to duty in August of 1918, but was shot just a week before the end of the War, the news of which his parents received on Armistice Day. Most of his poetry was published posthumously, but much of it still remains out of the public eye. His poetry is praised for its lack of patriotism in favour of the stark reality of war. One of this most famous poems is 'Dulce et Decorum Est'.

Wilfred Owen plate from Poems (1920).jpgIn 'Dulce et Decorum Est', Owen describes the consequences of a German gas attack on the trenches. Rather than cover up the atrocities he encountered in order to maintain the image of a the Noble British Solider, Owen calls himself and his comrades 'old beggars' and 'hags', who 'trudge' rather than march or stride. Not only is he criticizing the way propaganda has presented soldiers, he also creates an atmosphere of despondency and low spirit. 'beggars' and 'hags' are in the lowest class of society and yet we find them here, on the battlefield, suffering for their country without any reprieve. These men 'cursed' and 'turned [their] backs', wanting nothing more than 'rest'. All the words used to describe these soldiers and their actions emphasizes the sense of defeat that permeates the first stanza. There is nothing victorious or majestic about these soldiers, surrounded by 'sludge'. Behind the phrase 'Many had lost their boots/ But limped on, blood-shod' lies more than just the absence of physical shoes. These soldiers have lost their foothold in real life, they are surrounded by 'haunting flares', 'blind' and 'deaf' to the dangers they find themselves in. They are like animals, trudging on, filled with 'fatigue', while behind them 'gas-shells [are] dropping softly'.

With the introduction of the gas-shells, a sense of urgency and panic enters the poem. 'Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!' is an outcry no doubt very frequently in the trenches. It is also a wake-up call for the reader, alerting them to the very real and yet alien danger. The phrases 'the ecstacy of fumbling', the 'clumsy helmets' that are put on 'just in time' equal the possibility of death with that of sexual gratification, reminiscent of the French phrase 'la petit-mort' for 'orgasm'. Life and death are so closely entwined in the trenches that the adrenaline rush of fearing for your life seems to invigorate these men. The reader is partially pulled back to awareness when the poet notices 'someone still yelling out and stumbling'. What he sees still seems too fantastical, a 'man in fire or lime', 'drowning' under 'a green sea'. The poet sees all this through 'misty panes' and 'thick green light' because he himself has managed to put on his gas mask and is safe from the mustard gas slowly spreading through the trench. Owen interrupts his description of events for two, terrifying lines:
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning
Owen breaks with his account to reconnect the reader with his own world, the world where one goes to bed quietly and cannot escape a nightmare. He brings the War and Terror closer to home and lets the understanding sink in that experiences like these never fade. While recovering from shell shock in Birmingham, his psychologist advised his to write his dreams and ideas down and many of his poems are an account of his nightmares and fears. 

Having engaged with the real world, as if waking up from an actual dream, Owen continues in a bitingly ironic tone that is a lot more realistic. These dreams are 'smothering', revealing that wearing a gas mask cannot save you from anguish. Possibly addressing the writers of propaganda, Owen wishes the reader could see what he sees. The dying soldier, 'flung' into a wagon, devoid of any humanity, 'writhing', his 'face hanging', his blood 'gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs', is indeed nothing more than a devil 'sick of sin', a man completely abandoned by all gods. Humanity alone is depraved enough to kill its own children in such ways even the Devil has to turn aside. What Owen describes as 'obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud of vile, sores on innocent tongues' is the sounds of young men dying, one after the other, served up as canon-fodder and disposed of like animals. Owen has to stop himself in his narration and does so with a simple dash, cutting not only himself off but also the life of the soldier. It is over just like that, a simple line preventing any further words, any possible saving grace.

The 'My friend' is a bitter dig at the men and women who encourage children 'ardent for some desperate glory' that sacrificing themselves is a good thing. Throughout Europe, the War was presented as a quick affair, something that would have the German soldiers back home by Christmas. The reality was starkly different, trapping soldiers in a living hell in trenches in Verdun, the Somme and many other places. With nothing to hold onto except 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori' ('It is sweet and honourable to die for your country'), these children died in the 'sludge' for a country that had promised them 'glory'. It is these last lines that form the major argument of the poem, presenting Owen's criticism of the propaganda that was continuously being spouted by the Government about the nature of the war. His adherence to realism is what set his poetry apart and made Owen one of the War's greatest poets.

Next to 'Dulce et Decorum Est', 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' is another piercing war poem by Wilfred Owen.

Next Friday, Siegfried Sassoon, a friend of Wilfred Owen's and fellow poet and soldier.

Book Release: 'Eternal Night' - Jade Kerrion

Eternal Night ebook "What makes Kerrion’s writing so compelling is the beautifully flawed characters that find themselves in unexpected relationships...these kind of character level conflicts make Kerrion’s writing so deliciously addictive."—Noor A Jahangir, Author of The Changeling King “Everything you want in a great story. Love, intrigue, action, betrayal, and understanding.”—Ch’kara Silverwolf, Author of Daughter of Light and Dark 
Alone for a millennium, since a human murdered her beloved consort, Ashra, the immortal icrathari queen, rules over Aeternae Noctis, the domed city of eternal night. Her loneliness appears to be at an end when her consort’s soul is reborn in a human, Jaden Hunter, but their reunion will not be easy. Icrathari are born, not made. If Ashra infuses Jaden with her immortal blood, he will be a vampire, a lesser creature of the night, a blood-drinker rather than a soul-drinker. Furthermore, Jaden is sworn to protect his half-sister, five-year-old Khiarra. She is the child of prophecy, destined to end the eternal night and the dominion of the Night Terrors—the icrathari and the vampires. As Ashra struggles to sustain her crumbling kingdom in the face of enemies without and treachery within, Jaden fights to defend his sister and unravel a greater mystery: what is the city of eternal night, and how did it come to be? 
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With Tera beside her, Ashra strode forward. A wall of vampires parted to reveal the other two icrathari, Siri and Elsker. A dark-haired human slumped at Elsker’s feet, his wrists cuffed behind his back. Ashra stifled a chuckle. Surely Tera was overreacting; the human was by far the weakest creature in the chamber. Tera knelt down, wrapped her fingers into the human’s hair, and pulled his head back. The human’s face was handsome enough—the slash of his cheekbones accentuated his perfectly proportioned, sculptured features—but taken as a whole, he was not compelling enough to justify the fuss. Ashra shrugged. “You’re wasting my time, Tera.” Apparently undeterred, the icrathari warlord shook the human hard. His eyes flashed open. They were brilliant green, the exact color of the emerald ring Ashra wore on the index finger of her right hand. His gaze was unfocused, and the reflexive narrowing of his eyes matched the clenching of his jaw, hinting of wrenching pain. Tera looked up and met Ashra’s gaze. “Taste his soul.” Ashra recoiled, her upper lip curling in disgust. She had no desire to taste a human’s soul. Over the centuries, humans had grown weak, their small lives consumed by superstition and fear. It was better to live on the edge of perpetual starvation than fill her hunger with the pitiful excuse humans called a soul. “Go deep,” Tera said. But why? Ashra’s brow furrowed. She glanced at Siri and Elsker, but the two icrathari shrugged, apparently no more clued in than she was. She looked back at Tera. The icrathari warlord known as Ashra’s Blade was the epitome of calm understatement. If she was so insistent, she must have had a reason. Ashra knelt beside the human. Without flinching, she placed her hand against his muscled abdomen. It was bloody, his flesh ripped by a vampire’s talons. The man tensed at her touch, and his eyes flared wide with agony when her soul-sucking powers leeched into him. His breath came hard and fast, his chest heaving with the effort as he twisted in Tera’s unyielding grip, trying to break free. Ashra’s eyes narrowed. The human was weakened—tapped into his life source, she waded through his dazed thoughts and shivered from the echo of each spasm of pain that wracked his body—but still, he fought Tera on the physical plane and Ashra on the psychic dimension, denying her access to his memories and to his soul. She frowned and slammed her will against his, tearing an anguished scream from his throat, but still, his will did not crumble. Askance, Ashra looked at Tera. “Did you taste him?” Tera nodded. “It wasn’t hard the first time; he didn’t know what to expect, but apparently, he does now and is doing a fine job of fighting back.” Was that grudging respect she heard in Tera’s voice? “Does his soul really matter?” The icrathari nodded again. Ashra’s shoulders shifted with the motion of a silent sigh. His resistance left her with little choice. She leaned forward and glided her lips over his in a whisper of a kiss. Human myths spoke of succubi and incubi—demons that, with a touch, could stir lust in their unwilling victims. All myths were based in reality. The maddening beauty and soul-sucking powers of the icrathari had spawned the legends of succubi and incubi. With a touch, the icrathari could lure their victims into a state of sexual ecstasy, bending the will and baring the soul. The human tensed against Ashra, resisting the intimate contact. She almost recoiled. Had the centuries dulled her innate powers? Surely she had not forgotten how to lure a man. She closed her eyes and remembered love. As always, Rohkeus’s fine-featured face—those beautiful gold-flecked green eyes, so unusual for an icrathari, and teasing smile—came to the fore. With a dreamy half-smile, she deepened the kiss, driving the memory of love before her like a sharpened stake. At last, the man relaxed, succumbing to the kiss. She leaned into him, heedless of his crimson blood staining her white gown. He was warm, feverish even. Just skimming over six feet, he had more than twelve inches on her, but his physical strength, compared to hers, was puny. She was well aged; over four millennia old, she was the oldest of the icrathari and the strongest. She could have broken his neck with as little effort as a human child snapping a twig. Her hand trailed across his muscled torso. He made it easy for her to be gentle. His body trembled as if he longed for her. His mouth was hungry for her kiss. He arched up against her, as if craving more. His need was like a living creature, wild and aching for her touch. Eyes closed, Ashra shivered. Only one other person had desired her as much. And he was dead. She forced her way through the memories of pale bodies tangled upon cool silk sheets. When her soul-sucking power leeched out, it found no opposition. Images of the human’s life rewound in a blaze of vivid sights, sounds, and sensations. Ashra looked up at Tera, her smile little more than a barely perceptible curve of her lips. “He fancies himself the protector of the child of prophecy. Was she among those taken tonight?” Tera nodded. Ashra chuckled, the sound without humor. “It’s a pity her genetic heritage wasn’t sufficiently superior to prevent her from being culled.” “There’s more. Go deep.” She pushed past the blackness at the start of his memories, expecting deeper darkness. Instead, the colors shifted into shades of ochre and gray. Memories, older than his body, resided in his soul; memories of an Earth long since lost to them—a planet surrounded and nourished by water; images of tall buildings glistening beneath a benevolent sun, and of thriving cities filled with the bustle of humans; memories of quiet and intimate conversations beneath a silver moon, the same silver moon that now graced Malum Turris with its light, though a thousand years older and viewed only from beneath the protection of the dome. She saw herself as he must have seen her, a much-younger icrathari, still hopeful for the future, never realizing that the Earth they had all known and loved was irretrievably lost. Had she ever looked that vulnerable? Had her smile ever been so beautiful, so filled with love as she looked upon— “Rohkeus?” Oh, blessed Creator, was that stricken whisper her voice?
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Monday, 6 January 2014

Review: 'The Beetle' by Richard Marsh

The late 1800s produced a number of Gothic novels that have remained at the forefront of popular culture, two among them Dracula by Bram Stoker (published in the same year as The Beetle) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert L. Stevenson (1886). The Beetle is one of the many that has been forgotten when it shouldn't have been. With an accomplished mix between humour and horror, Marsh not only makes a beetle terrifying but also manages to comment on England's society.
'The Beetle' (1897) tells the story of a fantastical creature, "born of neither god nor man," with supernatural and hypnotic powers, who stalks British politician Paul Lessingham through fin de siecle London in search of vengeance for the defilement of a sacred tomb in Egypt. 
In imitation of various popular fiction genres of the late nineteenth century, Marsh unfolds a tale of terror, late imperial fears, and the "return of the repressed," through which the crisis of late imperial Englishness is revealed.
The Beetle shares some typical characteristics with other Gothic works such as Frankenstein (1818) and Dracula, such as the narration from different characters, the presentation of the story as reality and obsession with scientific developments. It is the later that I first want to discuss because, as in the other novels, science is personified in The Beetle. Sydney Asherton was, in my opinion, the best developed character in the novel. He fluctuates between being madly in love, trying to manufacture death and being terribly excited at the prospect of danger. As you might guess, he is the funny character in the novel, both annoying and endearing himself to everyone. That is where he differentiates himself from Van Helsing (Dracula) and Dr. Frankenstein (Frankenstein). His, occasionally, charming nature hides the fact he is actually the most powerful person in the novel as well, unafraid of danger and incredibly gifted. Marsh here manages to leave a hint for those who pay attention, that when all danger seems to have returned to its country of origin, one should not forget to consider ones own country as well.

Also interesting in The Beetle is the position of women. They are both enabling the behaviour of others and showing signs of the New Woman. The New Woman was a feminist concept, the term of which was coined by author Henry James, that described the increase of independent and educated women. As a literary example, Nora from Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House is often chosen because she chooses to become independent and experience life herself. It is important to remember, however, that Ibsen himself wasn't a feminist and wasn't too happy with the feminist interpretation that was given to a number of his plays. In this novel it is Marjorie Lindon who draws most of the attention, although Dora Greyling also shouldn't be forgotten. Surprisingly independent and forward for most of the novel, it is interesting to see how Marsh tries to fit her into the damsel-in-distress trope that is typical for Gothic novels.

Of course, the villain is fascinating. I chose the cover above on purpose because it's terribly over the top and dramatic, but that is exactly what Marsh wanted, mixing in some Sensationalism into his novel. Although it is clearly not a real cult, but rather an amalgamation of a number of different traditions from different African countries, it still works perfectly as a rather intimidating and spooky danger than is impossible to get a hold off. The choice of a beetle was also ingenious, since it invades London like an insect, crawling in the dark, unseen, yet indestructible. The Beetle is the kind of villain that is always lurking, always waiting, until it strikes when you least expect it and and all hell breaks loose.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!!!

I really enjoyed this novel although I was initially hesitant due to the horror and Gothic tags attached to it. The Beetle is an excellent example of both done to perfection. This novel is an example of the unfortunate consequence of time passing. Not all novels are remembered and when you're unfortunate enough to publish your novel at the same time as the birth of the vampire as society's obsession, you get lost among the others. But that brings with it the beauty of discovering a novel like this, something completely unexpected that you can then brag about to everyone else.