A Little Perspective From Tom Church

Posts tagged ‘mythology’

Ten Must-Read Short Stories

Hey guys! How’s college, you ask? Not bad, thanks.

Let’s get down to business though! Or actually, let’s get away from the formality and talk about short stories. One of my personal favorite literary mediums, I’ve got loads of short story collections at home and have brought a few with me. I can’t get enough. Sometimes I’ll say “that’s enough poetry” and stop reading poems for at least a few good hours. “That’s enough of Greek plays for a while.” “That’s enough philosophy…” Some subsections of literature make me feel queasy after a while.

But it’s rare that I ever get fed up with short stories. Perhaps it’s because I know where to look. I’ve got all my favorite guys nearby all the time–my Lovecraft, my King, my Vonnegut, my O. Henry–and needless to say, the Internet helps sometimes if I don’t technically own what I’m reading.

Today I am in an awfully literate and musical mood. I am feeling as poetic as ever. And I wanted to give you guys the low-down on what some of my favorite short stories are; the select tales that stand out in my mind as being truly spectacular. For each story I relate, there will also be a song; perhaps the song is what the story reminds me of, or vice versa. Perhaps playing the song while reading makes the experience all the more sublime. I will be sure to elaborate, don’t worry.

And four more things!

1) For your convenience, I will be sure to label the story in question as being relatively “short,” “medium,” or “long,” emboldening whichever one the story in question happens to be. That way you know what you’re getting into. These stories all take less than twenty minutes to read, and some take even less than five. Trust me, they’re bite-sized. But they will (hopefully) fascinate you, just as they fascinated me.

2) I will have you know that this is indeed a “list” post, meaning that I will be listing these things in order from least-appreciated to most-appreciated. However, don’t take that to mean that these are my top ten favorite short stories of all time. That list is ever-changing. These are merely ten stories that I hold in very high regard for some reason(s) that will hopefully be made apparent upon a read-through.

3) I will not use more than one story per author, to spice things up. And the stories (and songs) will be linked within their respective places in this post, so that you don’t have to search frantically all over the Internet.

4) The blog only allows so many Youtube videos to be embedded on the page, so some will show up merely as links, you may click them and be taken straight there.

Enjoy!

10) A Rose For Emily — William Faulkner

short | medium | long

This story is chilling and peculiar. It can sort of be classified as a “thrilling” read, but I wouldn’t say it’s a horror story; it’s just not something I’d really expect from Faulkner after trying to understand The Sound and the Fury.

Now, hold on a second. I know that I just recently wrote a post about scary Internet stories, but you can trust me when I say that I have my reasons for including any scary short stories on this list (there are a total of four, counting this one). I am generally a fan of scary stories and concepts, so this one got my attention and has held a place in my mind ever since. I can’t name many stories written in the first half of the 20th century that are so absolutely strange. This story is unique, both as a styling of Faulkner and as a work of literature during his period in history. As far as I know, people regard it well.

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/wf_rose.html

This link will take you straight to the story. It reads in a bit of a formal fashion, but stick with it and I’m sure the ending will surprise and interest you.

A Song to go Along

If you’re reading a creepy story, you’ve gotta be listening to something slow and edgy, perhaps a little haunting. That’s where this Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s song comes in: it’s called “A Journalist Falls In Love With Death Row Inmate #16.” It is about just what it says, and it is both strange and somewhat endearing.

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

9) Little Drops of Water — Kurt Vonnegut

short | medium | long

This story is a step in the opposite direction. There is something magical about Kurt Vonnegut’s stories, and I don’t know if I could ever really pinpoint it, but one of the best ones I’ve read by him was “Little Drops of Water.” It deals with an older man who often has loose romantic flings with his younger piano students; but one of those students decides not to be taken so lightly, and the events that unfold are a stroke of genius.

https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/jenor/ADS/HarpersMagazine-2009-06-0082535.pdf

Above is the link. Like I said, this story is opposite to “A Rose for Emily;” it made me happy when I finished.

A Song to go Along

This story put a skip in my step, and naturally I’d pick a song that does the same. I’d go with an upbeat Coconut Records song, particularly “It’s Not You It’s Me”…

It’s a feelgood song worth dancing to!

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

8) Uncle James — E. Nesbit

short | medium | long

Out of the millions of children’s stories on the planet, some of my favorite have been by Seuss, Milne, and Nesbit. Edith Nesbit wrote fantastic childrens’ stories, lots of which involved dragons. Her style is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, but perhaps a little more grounded in reality, because many stories involved young, princess-and-commonboy protagonists.

“Uncle James” is one of those stories. Tom, the gardener’s boy, is in love with the young princess Mary Ann. They live in Rotundia, a world where things meant to be big (elephants, whales, etc) are small, and things meant to be small (guinea pigs, rabbits, etc) are big. The story is wonderfully written and even admits at a few points to be skipping over the more boring details of what occurred.

http://www.online-literature.com/edith-nesbit/book-of-dragons/2/

Read it and enjoy! And then go back and read the stories that will never fail to make you feel like a vulnerable little kid again.

A Song to go Along

Listen to “White Daisy Passing” by Rocky Votolato. It’s a pretty, Elliott Smith-esque song that turns a normal walk into an endlessly pleasant experience. And I’ve always associated children’s stories with nature and comfort, wonder and tranquility.

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

7) The Boogeyman — Stephen King

short | medium | long

Reading this story for the first time was terrifying. I couldn’t sleep well for weeks. Maybe I was merely young and impressionable, but honestly this story is masterfully creepy and awesomely surprising. It’s a must-read, absolutely, for any horror fan.

http://loloyd.homeip.net/ebooks1/Stephen%20King%20(Bibliography)/1970’s/1977/Short%20Stories/Stephen%20King%20-%20Night%20Shift%20-%20The%20Boogeyman.pdf

 

This story is guaranteed to deliver.

 

A Song to go Along

Well, I actually have two. The first one, “Haunted” by Radical Face, is a primer. It gets you in the mood, makes you feel haunted and eerie. It’s like wind blowing down a subway tunnel, or climbing into bed with the lights off. It’s just the right atmosphere to instill before reading a creepy book. Immerse yourself dammit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoCiyB8dMPk

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

Then listen to this song while reading. It’s from the Dead Space video game original soundtrack. It’s actually pretty horrifying and yet also unobtrusive, because it has no lyrics. Give it a try.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfbV6sSrn_4

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

 

6) I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream — Harlan Ellison

short | medium | long

This story is truly mortifying. It’s an astoundingly dark take on the progression of robots and computers, set in some strange future, where a handful of humans live together, taunted and tortured by a merciless Artificial Intelligence. The narrator is one of these people, and he talks about who they are, and who they all used to be before the machine systematically wiped out humanity. It seems that the only reason they are still alive at all is to be treated as playthings, because a computer with no test subjects apparently is capable of growing bored. The ending is strange and may be pretty shocking, but it’s a story that deals with one of many possible futuristic outcomes. And while it’s a little bit hard to foresee happening, it’s still brain food in a way. It gnawed at my mind for days.

http://pub.psi.cc/ihnmaims.txt

Read it, dwell on it, curl up in a ball.

 

A Song to go Along

The song “Anthem” by Emancipator is, in my mind, a perfect fit. It has that synthetic, futuristic, tech feel that this story offers. It’s kinda slow, dark, and fosters a contemplative mood. Try listening to it while reading and see what you think.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PEGDGxZdzA

You will be a changed human.

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

 

5) The Last Leaf — O. Henry

short | medium | long

O. Henry stories have always been the best. They have plot twists, which in my eyes is a sign of creativity and intelligence. And they’re not cheap either, they’re genuinely clever. And mostly they tend to be meaningful, which is something I can easily appreciate. “The Last Leaf” is one of my favorites.

http://www.online-literature.com/donne/1303/

It’s witty, it’s quick, and most of all it’s touching.

 

A Song to go Along

A song to go along? How about the song that hasn’t left my iPod since sophomore year: “The Past and Pending” by The Shins. No matter how many times I listen, there is something so compelling, so soft, so soothing and intimate about this song that makes me want to listen again. Most songs dry up and go away, but I will always listen to this song when it comes on.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6dYB35lF_0

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

It’s fantastic and it’s calming, and it fits well with the story. CHECK IT OUT!

 

4) Pygmalion and Galatea — Edith Hamilton

short | medium | long

Now, this story isn’t actually the written property of Edith Hamilton. She’s just the Greek historian who managed to simplify it from poem form and basically synopsize it. But no matter what form it takes, I will always love this story. It’s about a man who detests women and decides to create a female sculpture in order to expose all the flaws of the gender–what happens next is not worth spoiling. I’ll link you guys to the Hamilton retelling of this story but encourage you all to read Ovid’s 10th poem in Metamorphoses, which fully accounts for the supposed experiences of Pygmalion.

http://www.dl.ket.org/latin/mythology/3fables/love/pygmalion.htm

It is one of the more touching love stories I’ve read before.

 

A Song to go Along

I like soft love songs, and so I’ll let you guys give this a listen:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aZh261KZWI

It’s one of the prettier songs I can call to mind, and it makes me feel sad and in love at the same time. And while the song may end on a bit of a morose note, and while certain parts of it may seem flaky and too honest, it just reinforces my own notions of true love and of keeping promises–in any case, it’s a pretty song, and I recommend giving it a listen. It may make your read a bit more interesting, and hey! It sounds like the narrator of Lua is disillusioned with the idea of love, just like Pygmalion.

 

 

3) A Calendar of Tales: August — Neil Gaiman

short | medium | long

If you have not yet read Neil Gaiman’s Calendar of Tales, go do it! Or better yet, have them read to you! Just pick a month and give it a listen, they never disappoint. Gaiman decided to connect to his audience by asking them what ideas they had about all of the months of the year; then he handpicked certain Twitter replies and wrote stories about them. It was a fantastic and generous idea.

My favorite of them all is August, closely followed by April and then July. But here’s a direct and obvious link to August:

http://keepmoving.blackberry.com/assets/desktop/pdf/neil-gaiman/august-story.pdf

This one is all about forest fires, and also the kinds of misconceptions humans have and perhaps the false sense of security they sometimes have in the face of danger. Ultimately, though, it’s just really poetic, and made me feel good at the end. It made me happy.

 

A Song to go Along

This song. Red Right Ankle by The Decemberists. It’s beautiful and charming, just like the August story. It makes me feel like sitting outside on a stoop, shooting the shit with someone close, watching things happen in the heat of August.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYwkmPKsctQ

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

 

2) The Yellow Wallpaper — Charlotte Perkins Gilman

short | medium | long

This story is probably the greatest psycho-thriller story I ever hope to read. It was the most insightful and interesting look into the mind of a psychotic I’ve ever seen, written by someone who may or may not have ever been this sick. Without spoiling it for you, I will just go as far to say that the narrator in the story, a woman on “holiday” with her husband, who is a physician, is afflicted with some sort of mental issue which causes her to become depressed. The rest is warped.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/literatureofprescription/exhibitionAssets/digitalDocs/The-Yellow-Wall-Paper.pdf

It is a bit long, but honestly it is perhaps the most rewarding “long” short story here. I promise.

 

A Song to go Along

I can’t even really think of a song to match what kind of eerie feeling this story manages to purvey. Here. Listen to the sounds Jupiter makes via electromagnetic waves. It’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3fqE01YYWs

You’re welcome.

Listen to this “song”:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

 

1) The Green Morning — Ray Bradbury

short | medium | long

This story is right out of The Martian Chronicles. Brief aside, of all the things and people I owe my relationship to Erin with, Bradbury is probably number one. We bonded over him quickly and excitedly because every story, every single story we’ve ever read by the guy is fantastic. He’s imaginative, creative, brief, simple, and yet so thought-provoking it’s ridiculous. We can never get enough of him.

Normally I’d go on and on about “Usher II” which is Erin’s and my favorite story in The Martian Chronicles. That story is absolutely fantastic, especially if you know your Edgar Allan Poe. But I decided to go with a story that wasn’t scary, and that didn’t require too much prior knowledge to certain things to appreciate the story. So I went ahead and chose “The Green Morning,” which is by all means spectacular.

http://anton.shpigunov.com/2011/07/the-green-morning/

And for your further enjoyment, if you appreciated that, you can read the entire book here. Pick a story and go with it, they’re all short and all fantastic.

 

A Song to go Along

A good song? Hmm… how about “Broken Afternoon” by The Helio Sequence?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYOEm_H5nQA

This song is vocally powerful but instrumentally soft, as if the singer is preaching or proclaiming his ideas. It’ll make you think of Johnny Appleseed when you read the story, or Benjamin Driscoll rather: the Johnny Appleseed of Mars.

Listen to this song:

before reading | while reading | after reading

 

 

Well, I hope you guys enjoyed! If you ever want more musical or literary recommendations, be my guest and ask me. I will absolutely give you guys some pointers.

Thanks for reading!

 

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

Beowulf And Skyrim Parallels

A lot of people play The Elder Scrolls now that Skyrim’s been released. It is a fantastic series, probably best described as the Lord Of The Rings of video games because of its depth and intrinsic lore. It has such an original and compelling fantasy basis that even Call of Duty and other FPS dorks choose to play it sometimes, and that’s saying something. In a sense, playing these games is like reading a book, without actually reading it.

And that feeling comes partially from the fact that these games emulate popular and classical fiction. It’s true that these kinds of things are referenced often; The Hobbit by Tolkien has the same premise as Beowulf because both lead up to the slaying of a dragon. In the 70’s and 80’s, metal bands thought it was totally hardcore to reference dark literature like The Necronomicon and other Lovecraftian creations because it meant that… well, I don’t even think they really know what it meant. Honestly I don’t like bands like that.

But The Elder Scrolls series is relevant to a broader population, arguably, because it’s not every guy these days that likes hardcore death-post sex technotica metalblast dreamvibe sassafras massacre hellscream valkyrie music. But there are a lot of gamers who play Skyrim.

Just google “Elder Scrolls References” and see what you find, honestly. There are millions. They’re often denoted as “easter eggs” and are arranged in order of which book or legend they’re referencing. There are references to LOTR, King Arthur, the Headless Horseman, etc.

But I recently read Beowulf because I found it at a book store for one dollar. I was very thoroughly astounded at how many references I found without even really trying very hard. Skyrim is chock full of them. In fact, it’s safe to say that the entire virtual realm of Skyrim is based off Scandinavia. I’ll remind you that there is a Nordic race in the game, which is basically human, but with special perks and abilities. They are not necessarily better than any of the other eight races, but they have a 50% resistance to frost and cold, and also a battle-cry that makes enemies flee for thirty seconds. It’s kind of fitting, honestly.

As I read and annotated Beowulf, I noted the use of titles: earls, mainly, and thanes as well. Earls are the English translation of the Scandinavian term jarl, which is used extensively in Skyrim. Thane is a term to describe someone of moderate nobility, in between the class of normal citizen and distinguished jarl. You become thane of several cities if you play the game properly and thoroughly.

Also, the main antagonists of Beowulf are mirrored, more or less, in The Elder Scrolls series, starting with Morrowind, or game 3 of 5. The Uderfrykte is a strange troll that you encounter in Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, and which you may kill all three times–it doesn’t seem to affect its appearance in later games at all. The Uderfrykte it seen as Grendel because of a nearby dead man’s journal, which describes his encounters with the Uderfrykte. It also speaks of a Uderfrykte Matron monster which you may find and kill–this is a mirror image of Grendel’s mother.

Also, the final antagonistic creature that Beowulf faces down is the dragon. Dragons are the major and highly difficult enemies found in Skyrim, the “boss battles” that sometimes come randomly. It is apparent that the dragons have been saved as creatures up until this game because the realm of Skyrim is obviously Nordic. It is almost as if the character plays in the time period of which Beowulf is set in, except with certain add-ons like magic and strange creatures, etc.

The presence of mead in Skyrim is prevalent, however its use is kind of absurd. If you drink too much of it, you gain little and lose a lot, because it decreases your strength and ultimately makes you kind of shitty for a while. Mead is kind of useless; I’ve never known anyone to trust in its effects while playing, and I’m assuming the only reason it’s really found is because the culture of the Scandinavians included it so heavily both in life and literature. The great mead-hall Heorot in Beowulf is proof of that.

In the story, Beowulf goes to fight for the king of the Danes, Hrothgar. This is used in Skyrim as the name of not a person, but a place; perhaps the place was named after the person, who supposedly really lived and may or may not exist in The Elder Scrolls. In Skyrim you climb a mountain to reach High Hrothgar, which is an enormous building meant for prayer and ritual. It is inhabited by old wise men. Honestly I don’t get the reference, really, but it’s kind of cool to see the name crop up again. Hrothgar was a sad guy in Beowulf because Grendel was killing all of his men. Eventually he sat alone in his mead-hall because no one visited him anymore, and it stayed that way for twelve years. Beowulf really helped him out by slaying the monsters for him.

My last reference, for this is kind of long and I could go for much longer, is one that I am proud for having found: at the beginning of Beowulf, it talks about the death of Scyld Scefing, or in English “Shield Sheafing,” who was the first of the line of Danish people. It says that he walked the “whale-road” to his death. This is seen in Skyrim as the road you walk on your way to kill dragon boss Alduin, for you walk a road up to the Hall of Valor (representative of Valhalla, or a sort of Norse heaven) that is lined with the rib cages of massive whales.

That’s it for me. If you are interested in any more references, be my guest and look them all up. There are some very good dialogue and physical references to some very relatable works of art and myth to be found in these game.

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

 

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