Chapter 1: Every Trip Is A Quest (Except When It’s Not)
The five aspects that make up a quest are the quester, a destination, a stated reason for going to the destination (often coming from an outside source), challenges along the way, and a real reason to go to that place. Always (except for sometimes), the real reason for the quest is self-discovery, even though the quester doesn’t know it yet. This idea of a quest is especially common in children’s literature, as well as film. For example, the movie Brave, a pixar fairytale aimed towards a young audience, has all of the characteristics of a quest. Below are the five aspects of the quest as seen in Brave.
Our quester: Merida, a rebellious, free spirited princess who is unhappy with her parent’s plans of arranging a marriage for her (leading her to turn her mother into a black bear).
A place to go: In order to prevent her mother from being permanently changed into a bear, she goes in search of the witch who had given her the enchanted cake (which transformed her mother) in the first place, in order find a way to undo the spell before it is too late.
A stated reason to go there: Her mother is not very happy about being a bear.
Challenges and trials: The witch’s cabin is abandoned, with only a vague message left behind: “mend the bond torn by pride.” Merida needs to find the solution in order to undo the enchantment. She also narrowly escapes an attack by Mor’du, a wild and vicious bear who was once a prince before he was transformed (causing her to face reality of what could happen to her mother.) On top of all this, the clans are hunting them, believing Merida’s mother to be Mor’du.
The real reason to go: Although Merida realizes the importance of undoing the transformation, she does not realize that not only is she repairing her rocky relationship with her mother, but she is also beginning to understand the responsibility that comes with her position as a princess. By the end of the movie, she and her mother have formed an understanding with each other, and Merida learns how to be strong, free spirited, and independent while still maintaining her responsibilities to her clan.
Chapter 3: Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampires
According to Foster, a vampire doesn’t necessarily have to be a vampire. Specific traits between two characters work together to form “the essentials of a vampire story.” The first character, or the “vampire,” is an older, attractive man with characteristics that draw the second character towards him. The second character, usually a young, virginal/innocent girl, is attracted to the cryptic, deadly character. Their interaction, whether it involves biting or not, leads to two things: first, character one becomes stronger, and second, character two withers away, and becomes more like character one (even if they don’t become undead). Foster then discusses how “ghosts and vampires are never only about ghosts and vampires,” and goes deeper into what exactly they may represent. For example, vampires in the victorian era were really a warning against premarital sexual activity and temptation. However, when Foster moves on to discussing modern examples, he acknowledges Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, but it seems as if he glances over it, simply boiling it down to a book that is popular with sex-crazed teenagers.
In reality, Twilight would be just as much of a vampire story if Edward Cullen wasn’t a vampire. Edward is older than Bella, much more experienced in his life, and he is mysterious, sexy, and dangerous (anyone who drives that fast, vampire or not, is dangerous). Bella is young and innocent, and she is enamoured with Edward. When they interact, Edward acts as Bella’s protector, a dominant role that makes him the stronger one in their relationship. Bella becomes more and more like Edward (literally), and she is unable to function without him (as seen in New Moon). As far as a deeper meaning, Twilight could be seen as a warning of the dangers of overprotective relationships, obsession, and lost individualism within teenage romance. This fits all of Foster’s criteria for a “vampire story,” without even taking into consideration that Edward is an actual vampire. So, while it is true that a vampire story may not involve an actual vampire, Twilight shows that sometimes, vampires are actually vampires.
Chapter 5: Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before?
Intertextuality is a term that describes the way that literature combines with and relates to other types of literature, such as poems, plays, and stories, along with how their interaction adds substance to to the text, and “enriches the reading experience.” According to Foster, the more we are aware of intertextuality, the more similarities we notice, the more we understand literature. Intertextuality can be seen in many forms, such as allusions, quotations, and parody, however, for the most part, intertextuality may not be expressed on purpose, and this is difficult to recognize. One example of intertextuality is in Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian. Percy is able to achieve invulnerability, except for one spot on his body. This is known in the book as the Curse of Achilles, which alludes to Achilles in Greek Mythology. Achilles was also granted invulnerability, except for one spot on his heel, and that one spot led to his death. This helps the reader to understand the importance of the small weakness, even with the power of invulnerability everywhere else. Another case of intertextuality is when characters take the same form, such as Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings, and Dumbledore from Harry Potter. In each case, both are powerful, respected wizards with authority, and each helps to make the other appear more powerful or trustworthy, because the reader associates them with each other. This is a case of unintentional intertextuality. Along with these, an example of intertextuality that is much more noticeable is the book Romiette and Julio, by Sharon Draper. Romiette and Julio are an obvious play on Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. In a retelling of the classic tale of forbidden love, it tells the story of a Hispanic boy and an African American girl, who are unable to be with each other due to the rivalry between their neighborhood gangs. This play on the title informs the reader of the connection between the two stories immediately, but Draper still is able to create an interesting and original book, while using intertextuality to create expectations in the reader’s mind, that she will use later to create exciting twists in the story.
Chapter 6: When In Doubt, It’s From Shakespeare…
The movie Titanic reflects the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet, in several major ways. Forbidden love is one of the most popular Shakespearean themes in literature and media, and Titanic is a perfect example of how this theme has been used over and over again throughout time. Romeo and Juliet, who are forbidden to be together because of the feud between their families, can be seen in Jack and Rose, who cannot be together because of their differences in social class. Not only are the parallels in the plotlines of these stories, (such as the death of Jack and Romeo, the lovers forced separation, and more) significant, but many of the themes within Shakespeare’s play, such as love-driven disputes and sacrifice, are prominent in Titanic as well. For example, in Titanic, Jack must sacrifice his own life in order for Rose to be able to survive in the end. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo must sacrifice his security in his family for Juliet. Overall, dozens of literary works over time reflect Shakespeare, and the popularity of these specific shakespearian themes will remain common in future works as well.
Chapter 10: It’s More Than Just Rain or Snow
Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelson, is a work of children’s literature that focuses on Cole, a boy who has been sent to a remote island as an alternative to prison. While on the island, Cole is taught the traditions of Native Americans to “provide healing for the criminal mind.” After being left alone, Cole, unable to control his rage, meets and attacks a mythical white bear. He is mauled by the bear, and left to die alone. Unable to move, he is left lying on the ground, where he is pelted by a constant rain. This rain acts, as Foster discusses in the chapter, as a cleansing for Cole. His anger diminishes as he focuses on the animal life around him, and he begins to feel concern for the animals whose homes are being destroyed in the storm. His mindset changes, and by the time he is rescued, he is able to focus on his recovery, both mentally and physically. He returns to the island to fulfill his sentence, and is able to understand the consequences of his actions, both towards “Spirit Bear,” and in his life. The rain that was such a constant misery for Cole while he was injured was also the turning point in the story, and it symbolised his cleansing of Cole’s mentality. He goes from a belligerent, aggressive boy to a thoughtful, caring person.
Chapter 11: …More Than It’s Gonna Hurt You: Concerning Violence
There are two types of violence: the kind where characters purposefully harm one another, whether it is through stabbing, shooting, or another method, and the kind where there is some sort of general violence, created by the author and not the characters, that helps to further the plotline. Often, this kind of violence is portrayed as an accidental death. An example of characters harming one another can be seen in all kinds of literature, and is very common. For example, in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a novel by Betty Smith, 13 year old Francie is nearly assaulted by a sexual predator. Although her mother stops any harm from coming to Francie, she prevents it by shooting the predator, which is a significant act of violence. This has an effect on how Francie sees herself, and it will impact her thoughts and development as she grows older. The second form of violence, in which the author creates it to further the plot, can be seen in the book Bridge to Terabithia. In this movie, Leslie, one of the main characters, drowns after the rope that she is swinging on snaps. This terrible accident devastates her friend Jesse, who feels as if it is his fault. The effects of Leslie’s death force Jesse to learn to deal with the death of someone who he was close to, and learn to move on. It also helps Jesse to begin to understand himself as an individual, develop his creativity and relationships with his family, and overcome his fears of being different.
Chapter 18: If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism
When thinking about baptism in works of literature, the first idea that came to mind is when Ponyboy, from The Outsiders, is nearly drowned in a fountain. There are a few things about this that may not seem to fit with the classic literary baptism, such as the involuntary aspect of being forced into a fountain by a gang of guys, the way that it was a fountain, and not a body of water, but also because he seems to lose innocence rather than gain it from the experience. However, the entire scene indicates that it is still a literary rebirth. Pony’s face is submerged in the water, he almost drowns, he wakes up outside of the water soaking wet, and then he starts screaming. This scene is a combination of several of the ideas that Foster describes from different examples of literary baptism, and it has elements of both a drowning rebirth, as well as an actual birth. Ponyboy is different after the event as well. His entire life has changed from before he went into the fountain to after. He wakes to find that Johnny has killed Bob, and from then on, they are on the run, and nothing is the same for Ponyboy afterwards. He experiences the loss of both Johnny and Dally, he is forced to grow up very quickly, he loses his reputation as a good student and athlete, and he seems to repair his relationship with Darry. These are all big changes from his life before, and this is why, although it is not a traditional baptism, it is still very symbolic as a rebirth.
Chapter 21: Marked for Greatness
Harry Potter’s scar has a several implications for his characterization. Not only is he literally marked for greatness, but it also marks a connection with Voldemort, and the sacrifice that his mother made. The scar shapes his entire life from the night that his parents were murdered. As we find out in The Order of the Phoenix, Trelawney’s prophecy, which led to Voldemort’s fear of Harry, could have been about either Neville Longbottom or Harry Potter. However, because Voldemort believed that the prophecy spoke of Harry, when he attacked the Potters, and the curse backfired, he had unknowingly fulfilled the prophecy himself. Harry’s scar indicated that he was “The Chosen One,” because Voldemort had marked him, and according to the prophecy, that meant that only Harry could defeat him, which influenced the way Harry is characterized. Throughout the series, Harry’s scar also acts as a connection to Voldemort, and Harry can feel the emotions of Voldemort, as well as sense when he is close to him, and he has visions that reveal what Voldemort is doing. The scar is a mark of their connection, and it acts as a physical reminder of their interconnected fates, as well as emotions. This provides a reason why Harry experiences emotions or visions that cause him to take certain actions. All of the effects of his scar impact the way he is characterized in a huge way, because without it, he would never have been “The Chosen One.”
Chapter 23/24: It’s Never Just A Heart Disease… And Rarely Just An Illness
Two characters who have died from a disease are Rex Walls, from The Glass Castle, and Fantine, from Les Miserables. Although they are very different from each other, both in situation and manner of death, they both reflect the “principles governing the use of disease in literature.” Rex Walls, throughout Jeanette’s life, has always been fairly inconsistent. While Jeanette was a child, Rex always appeared to be a loving father, but he also had issues with drinking and criminal activity. Along with this, as Jeanette grew older, Rex became even more unbalanced, he cared less about the welfare of his family, and he acted more self-absorbed. At one point, he even attempted to arrange for Jeanette to have sex with a man, in order to make some money. This history of unstable family relationships can be seen as symbolic, because Rex dies of a heart attack later in life. Relationships are considered a matter of the heart, and this shows that Rex is another example of Foster’s claim that a heart disease is never only a heart disease.
Fantine, who dies of “consumption,” or tuberculosis, largely fits into the symbolism behind the disease. Not only does it fit into the four main principles of a disease (diseases are unequal, picturesque, mysterious, and metaphorical), but it is also very symbolic. Consumption, as Foster describes, is the “wasting disease,” that causes the sufferer to slowly wither away until their death. Fantine experiences this in life as well, and her disease parallels her life. Fantine, after being fired from her job, slowly resorts to doing whatever is necessary to be able to make money to send to Cosette. She starts off as a beautiful woman, but as time goes on and her desperation grows, she is forced to begin selling her hair, and then her teeth, and finally her body, before she is nothing but a shell of herself. She is slowly consumed by poverty as time goes on, before dying of “the wasting disease,” and that is very powerful in showing the symbolic nature of tuberculosis.
Chapter 26: Is He Serious? And Other Ironics
An example of an ironic work is the greek tragedy Oedipus The King. This tragedy is full of ironic events. The multivocal nature, or the way that the story is told through different voices, is expressed because the ironic tragedies of the work are discovered through the stories being told by several characters. As this happens, the audience is able to put together the pieces of the story and understand the irony before the characters do. An example of this can be seen as Oedipus is realizing that he murdered Laius, the king. Jocasta and Oedipus’ stories interconnect with each other. Jocasta provides Oedipus with the information that he needs to realize that he himself is the killer, because while she describes the crossroads and the description of the king, Oedipus is realizing that he could possibly be the killer, but he still must wait for confirmation from the shepherd that this is true. The audience, already knowing about the prophecy, understands the situation before the characters are able to. In the end, when the characters all know the truth, irony is even more prominent, because despite the measures that Jocasta and Laius had taken to prevent the oracle from coming true, it was their actions that may have led to it being realized. The way the stories of the different characters come together to create such a complicated tragedy is a very impactful example of multivocal irony.