Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ghost Girl

I had a hard time getting into Ghost Girl by Tanya Hurley. I wanted to like this book, I really did. Everything from the concept of the story to the book cover intrigued me, but alas, I could not be persuaded to read more than 50 pages. Lately I've been in a non-reading mood (weird, I know) and I've had a lot of intolerance and impatience for books. All I want is a really good book that will keep me focused, but I haven't been able to find one yet. Ghost Girl seemed like it would be interesting, but within the first 50 pages I got sick of the main character talking about how invisible she was and how she wanted to re-invent herself so that she could become popular and attract the cutest boy in school, blah blah blah. Sorry. I don't buy it. And I'm tired of all YA books being about this, or at least close to this topic. I love the idea of this book, and I'm sure that I quit reading it right before the good parts started, but it shouldn't take 50 pages to get good. Isn't the beginning of the book supposed to be written and rewritten multiple times so that readers won't fall into this trap?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lewis Carroll: more than just an author

So recently I've been swamped with papers and homework and the overall idea of school during the months of November and half of December have been a blur. One of my papers, though I'm pretty proud of and was luckily able to use it for two different classes this semester. That paper was on Lewis Carroll and how he was an extraordinary wordsmith. Since Carroll is such a well-known author, I thought that I'd educate the masses and give you a little taste of what I've been doing during school. Oh, and this is the paper that I had all finished and then it mysteriously was deleted off of my computer and I had to rewrite the entire thing at 3 in the morning. Yeah. I wasn't too happy about that. However, I hope you enjoy the paper, and I understand if you stop reading it halfway through (it is 6 pages).

Lewis Carroll’s Literature: How it Changed the English Language
Lewis Carroll was many things in his life: mathematician, photographer, and author, but most of all, he was a great wordsmith. He had a great affinity for language and used onomatopoeia to create words that meant exactly how they sounded. Carroll loved inventing new words and phrases so much that his name Lewis Carroll is nothing but a penname that was invented by the mind of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the real-life Carroll. Dodgson changed to the pseudonym Lewis Carroll as a play on his own name: “Lewis was the Anglicized form of Ludovicus, which was the Latin for Lutwidge, and Carroll an Irish surname similar to the Latin name Carolus, from which the name Charles comes” (Wiki). This swapping of titles was not only fun for Carroll, but it provided him the opportunity to see what life would and could be like with new names, ideas, and most importantly, words.

However much Carroll loved nonsense words, he loved nonsense stories even more. His muse, 5 year old Alice Liddell, was the catalyst and inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and begged him to write down his Wonderland words and tales so that one day she might be able to read them. Because of her prodding, we have Carroll’s masterpieces of fiction that have contributed to not only the literary world, but that of the linguistic world as well.

Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are considered not only two great children’s novels, but two of the greatest pieces of literature to come out of the Victorian Era. Carroll invented an entirely new genre of fiction, that of “literary nonsense”, which can be described as a type of language or conversation that plays with structure and logic, and what can be considered sense and nonsense. This idea of nonsense riddles and word games can be seen all throughout Alice in Wonderland. An obvious representation of this literary nonsense is when Alice recites the poem “’Tis the voice of the sluggard” to some of the creatures she encounters on her journey through Wonderland. Instead of saying the proper poem, she recites the first things that come to her head:

’Tis the voice of the Lobster; I heard him declare
‘You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair.’
As a duck with his eyelids, so he with his nose
Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.
When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark.
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark:
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.
I passed by his garden, and marked, with one eye,
How the Owl and the Panther were sharing a pie:
The Panther took pie-crust, and gravy, and meat,
While the Owl had the dish at its share of the treat.
When the pie was all finished, the Owl, as a book,
Was kindly permitted to pocket the spoon:
While the Panther received knife and fork with a growl,
And concluded the banquet by— (86-87)

Though this poem seems to have a semblance of sense, it is complete nonsense and lacking any form of logic— Alice just let her mind flow and used whatever words or story that came to her mind to take the place of the actual place of the poem “’Tis the voice of the sluggard”. Carroll was not only the king of telling an entertaining and winding story, but he had the ability to add flair and pizzazz to whatever he wrote about with uncanny words and illogical sentence structures. Part of the beauty of Carroll’s writing is that he was able to create an entirely new literary genre by simply creating warped sentence structures and illogical thought processes.

Perhaps Carroll’s most famous use of the idea of “literary nonsense” and invention of words and phrases that have contributed largely to the English language is the poem of the Jabberwocky within the Alice sequel, Through the Looking Glass. Because Carroll invented and coined so many unique and odd words within the poem, I wanted to take a look at it and then give a modern day translation in hopes that we can better understand what Carroll tried to say when he penned his infamous lyric.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

And now for the modern day translation of his poem translated with help from Wikipedia:

JABERWOCKY (a fabulous monster)
It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and the slimy corkscrewed nosed badger-lizards
Spun round and round and made holes in the surrounding grass:
The mop-like birds were miserable and moving all about
And the green pigs had lost their way and were sneezing, bellowing and whistling all at once.

“Watch out for the Jabberwock, my son!
He has jaws that bite, and claws that can catch you!
Watch out for the desperate bird that perpetually lives in passion, and avoid
The furious and fuming creature that moves fast and has snapping jaws on an extendable neck!”

The son took his deadly sword in hand:
He had sought the fearsome foe for a long time—
But rested by the Tumtum tree,
And thought for a while.

And, as if in a huffish manner he stood,
The Jabberwock, with fiery eyes,
Came puffing through the thick, dank forest,
And bleated as it advanced!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The deadly sword went snicker-snack!
The boy left the monster dead, and with his head
He went galloping triumphantly back home.

“And did you kill the Jabberwock?
Come here so I can hug you, my beaming boy!
O fabulous, joyous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and the slimy corkscrewed nosed badger-lizards
Spun round and round and made holes in the surrounding grass:
The mop-like birds were miserable and moving all about
And the green pigs had lost their way and were sneezing, bellowing and whistling all at once.

As I translated the poem of Carroll’s odd words, I could not help but realize how much easier it was to use the words that Carroll had invented. The Victorian Era was the prime time for Carroll to introduce his new words to the public because this was the era of a lazy, more common vernacular. Victorians used slang and took shortcuts in their language to make things simpler for themselves. Carroll did just that and wove multiple words with differing meanings to create a seamless new word that properly described the verb or adjective that his character made, which in sense helped attribute to his literary nonsense and illogical thinking. He created rich and hearty words that expressed the sentiments and feelings his characters had. Words like “whiffling” and “burbled” have a certain onomatopoeia-like quality that express the definition and connotation when spoken. Carroll used the Victorian’s simpler vernacular to his advantage, and created new words to pepper his fantastical tales.

Carroll had a way with words that led to the creation of many descriptive and thrilling nouns, adjectives, and verbs. He used his love for the English language to invent new words that could be used to better his own literature. Words like “chortle” and “vorpal” not only help tell the account of the cult poem “Jabberwocky”, but are used in our common language today. His invention of many nonsense words and ideas helped pave the way for a new literary genre to come forth full of illogical syntax, thoughts, and expressive new words.