Category: Blog

From Alcatraz to Azkaban–A History

Alcatraz 1.jpg

You can smell the salt in the air, despite the inability to see much around you. That infamous San Francisco Bay Area fog is making it impossible to see even the beautiful golden bridge only a few miles from you. The locals promise you the fog will lift, and the sites will be beautiful, but you can’t imagine any fog this thick clearing in time to see anything, anytime soon. You’re visiting the Golden City in June, and yet it is still ice cold on the water.

Suddenly through the fog, The Rock comes into view. You can see the silhouette of the buildings on Alcatraz Island, and guess many of them are the prison itself. Your first thought is that it looks like a hauntingly twisted replica of France’s Mont-Saint-Michel, with its singular high tower, keeping watch over the rest of the island. Even from afar, the graffiti atop the water tower is glaring. You struggle to read it, and fixate on it. As your ferry pulls into the dock on the island, you get your first real look at the tag on the tower:

Peace and Freedom. Welcome. Home of the Free. Indian Land.

There are rumors that Alcatraz was originally used as a fishing station by local Indian tribes. According to the first Spaniard to map the island, Juan Manual Diaz, there was no sign anyone ever occupied the isolated island in the middle of the bay, except birds. He deemed it “La Isla de los Alcatraces,” or “The Island of the Pelicans.” Over the next few years, the Spanish would build several buildings on the island. Interestingly, (Anya if you’re reading this, this one is for you) the origin of the word “alcatraz,” according to a book from 1915, is Arabic. It was often used in reference to alchemy, meaning a “recovery of valuables from a retort” or basically, the process of separating the valuable material from a mineral after a process of purification (The Rock). As the book thoughtfully notes, this is an interesting origin of the word, knowing what Alcatraz Island eventually becomes: a rehabilitation prison.

In 1846, the Mexican government gave the island to William Workman, a settler from (my own home state) Franklin, Missouri. He jumped on a Santa Fe Trail caravan and migrated to what is now New Mexico, where he became a smuggler. He and his family traveled to California, where they landed as one of the original settlers of Los Angeles. Workman was granted Mexican citizenship after his work commanding parts of the Mexican army during the Mexican-American war. He, in turn, gave the island to his son, Francis Temple, who sold it to the future Governor of California, John C. Frémont for the lofty price of $5,000 (upwards of $150,000 in 2018) in the name of the US Government. Frustratingly, Frémont never paid the five grand, and Temple sued, to no avail. In 1850, President Millard Fillmore set the land aside for the US Military. Around this time, the US began studying the stability of the island to be used as protection for the San Fransisco bay. Construction began quickly, and ended in 1858, when the first army battalion arrived.

When talks of secession began to stir around the country, the governor of Oregon feared that California and Oregon would fall to southern sympathizers, and asked President Lincoln for fortification of the West Coast. Immediately, the US Army replaced the commanding officers at Alcatraz, and they turned the island into an arsenal for the US Military. In 1868, through the Spanish-American War, the military began using Alcatraz as long-term prisoner holding. In the seventies, the definition of “long-term prisoner” expanded to include “troublesome Indians” or American Indians that would not submit to involuntary removal from tribal land, or forced assimilation.  In the book The Rock, a collection of newspaper articles written in 1915, it describes one particular “troublesome Indian”: “One of these was a boy about sixteen who arrived in full Indian costume. He was taken to the barber shop where his beautiful long hair was cut off…” (August 3). The italics are not in the original. They were added by me for emphasis. These are real people, with a real culture that Americans stripped from them.  But I digress… On the podcast, we will discuss (rant about) this issue extensively when we get to Three Day Road.

alcatrazFortress

By the early 1900s the makeshift prison on the island was becoming overcrowded. Mainly at this time, the prisoners were associated with the military; some were deserters, some were civilians that committed crimes as they traveled with the military, and also POWs. Nearly two-hundred prisoners were transported to Alcatraz the night before the 7.9 magnitude earthquake in 1906. Alcatraz itself took little damage; a pipe burst and the original lighthouse was damaged. They later decided to tear down the lighthouse, and rebuild. However, the coastline was severely damaged, and many of the jails around the city, including the famous San Quentin, caught fire. There was an actual discussion of if it would be better to leave the prisoners in their cells to burn to death, or if they should be released. Eventually, the prisoners were evacuated, and wandered homeless for two days before they were transported to Alcatraz Island, where they would wait out the week.

In 1907, The Rock officially became a military prison. This time period was the beginning of the building of the large cell blocks. The cell blocks were completed in 1912, and at the same time the builders demolished the military barracks to the ground level, creating a moat-like defense system on the island. Later, the first floor was incorporated into the cell block, leading to legends that there was a dungeon beneath the prison.

During the First World War, conscientious objectors to the war and draft dodgers were held at Alcatraz. One famous objector, Philip Grosser, highlighted the inhumane treatment in his book Uncle Sam’s Devil Island. There are accusations that the PTSD he obtained from his time in the prison led to his suicide in 1933.

In 1933, the island was turned over to the US Dept. of Justice, and turned into a federal penitentiary. The initial idea of the prison was to hold troublesome prisoners from other penitentiaries around the countries. The first batch of 137 prisoners arrived by railroad on August 11, 1934, pictured below. 60 US Marshals and FBI agents guarded the prisoners as they arrived in handcuffs. The original staff has 155 members, highly trained in security protocol, but not rehabilitation. In the early years of the prison, the US experimented with the newest technology of the day. The prisoners were surrounded by early metal detectors, but they often overheated and had to be turned off. The gun gallery guards were given machine guns, shot guns, hand guns, grenades, and gasses to maintain order in the prison.

alcatraz-800x445

Unsurprisingly, the citizens of San Fran were not thrilled with hardened criminals, mainly professional gangsters, being held just off the coast of the city. The police chief cited 17 different cases where military prisoners escaped the island in previous years. A woman’s club protested the prison by organizing separate swims out to the island to prove how easily the swim was achieved. Of course, nothing ever came of the protests, and the island continued to house “the worst of the worst” criminals.

Now for the fun part… Whaaaatttt? It’s already been a fun read! I know. But it is about to get funner. More fun? Anyway…

Alcatraz is more famous for the prisoners it held, than its history. Some of the top names of prisoners that spent much of their lives here are Roy Gardner, the last American train robber; Henri Young, the man who stabbed another prisoner to death with a spoon; Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, the last public enemy to be taken to the island; James “Whitey” Bulger, or the Robin Hood of Boston; George “Machine Gun” Kelly, not the rapper, of course; and Meyer Harris “Mickey” Cohen, a featherweight boxer arrested for tax evasion with ties to our hometown, Las Vegas. A famous inmate we must talk about is the Birdman. After a tough life and years of imprisonment, he was imprisoned at Leavenworth Prison. While there, he was isolated in solitary confinement, where he began to collect a colony of canaries, and author two books about them and their diseases. He was later transported to Alcatraz where he served the majority of his sentence, before he died in a hospital for prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. Of course one of the most famous is Al “Scarface” Capone, enough said. I should mention here that an outrageous number of these inmates had ties to my hometown, Kansas City, Missouri, or several miles west in Leavenworth, Kansas and the federal penitentiary, or south to Springfield, Missouri. In short, gangsters come from KC. Fun fact: KC is still full of gangsters. 😉

220px-Al_Capone_in_1930      mgk

Speaking of gangsters… Let’s digress from the famous inmates for a minute to talk about history again for a second. Let’s talk about the Battle of Alcatraz. After an unsuccessful escape attempt by bank robber Bernard Paul Coy and five accomplices, overtook the prison. While one man, stationed in the kitchen as the cleaner, called for a guard to let him out to return to his cell, another attacked the guard. They released two other men from their cells. Coy opened some bars in the gun gallery, and with the help of weight loss, squeezed between the bars into the gallery. Armed with clubs, keys, guns, grenades, and gasses, they took block C and D, releasing the prisoners, before securing the yard. They took officers hostage, and attempted to move outside to use them to barter with the boatman at the dock. After all of their hard work, they were finally foiled by a jammed lock, and were forced to shoot it out with the incoming guards. Afraid the guards would testify against them if they surrendered, the inmates open fired on their five officer hostages. While a few of the inmates returned to their cells, the ring leaders decided they would not surrender and continued firing on advancing guards. Finally, the warden cut the electricity. Because of the positioning of the prisoners at the top of the cell block and with the weapons they obtained, it was nearly impossible to attack. The only option? They called in the motha’ fuckin’ US Marines. The Marines came up with a strategy to drive the prisoners into a corner by drilling holes in the roof of the cell block, and drop in live grenades. The prisoners avoided injury by falling into position in the corner of the cell block. Eventually, they sent in armed officers, guns a-blazing. The bodies of the escapees were later recovered in the corridor in which they were cornered.

boa-catwalk

Another famous inmate includes Frank Lee Morris,  known for his multiple escape attempts from other penitentiaries. He was supposedly tested multiple times for his IQ, and was positioned at the top 2% of the country. He used his smarts to aid him in his multiple escape attempts. It was him who convinced the Anglin brothers, John and Clarence, and Allen West to attempt an escape of the island. This escape attempt is also the most famous in the history of the island. There is some suggestion that the men had been imprisoned together before, and possibly knew each other. They were assigned adjacent cells in 1961, and worked on their escape plans through the night. Over time, they made the ventilation vent in their cells bigger using a makeshift drill from a broken vacuum, saws they found on the prison grounds, and spoons. They masked the holes by using cardboard and paint, and covered their noise by having Morris play his accordian. I just have a few questions… How in the world were the guards so careless they obtained these materials, and it wasn’t a bit obvious that there was an accordian playing all night? Did the guards not care because the island is inescapable? I. Just. Don’t. Understand.

Anyway… They opened their vents enough to crawl through, to create a work room inside the walls, atop their cells. In the workroom, they fashioned life preserves from raincoats, and made a raft. They used parts of the accordian to inflate the raft. Finally, they climbed through the ventilation system to the grill on the roof, where they would made their escape.

The night of the escape, West had some problems with the grate on his vent. By the time he made it out, the others were gone. He returned to his cell and went back to sleep. In the morning, West cooperated with guards to avoid further punishment. He revealed the escape plans, and preparations. By then, Morris and the Anglins were long gone, and only the papier-mâché heads they made of themselves remained. Guards later revealed that they had, in fact, heard the escape attempt when the grill on the roof crashed to the floor. When they heard no other sound, they did not investigate. I mean… what?! What even is this place?

A full search of the coast was immediately put into place. The coastguard found the remains of a paddle, the raft, and several life preserves, but no bodies were ever recovered. They also found one of the Anglin’s wallet, containing names and addresses of friends and family. The FBI concluded while it was possible one or more of the escapees could have made it to land, it was unlikely, due to the water temperature and the strength of the current in the bay. The FBI website says, “We officially closed our case on December 31, 1979, and turned over responsibility to the U.S. Marshals Service, which continues to investigate in the unlikely event the trio is still alive.” However, the US Marshals still classify it as an open investigation, and as recently as 2009, according to NPR, the Director told NPR that he was still regularly obtaining leads in the case and they are actively pursuing them.

Since then, Mythbusters have tested their escape and found it possible they survived. Evidence was released that the FBI did find footprints on an island nearby where the boat was found. The FBI once said the plan was to steal clothes and a car when they got to land, and there were no cars stolen in the area that night. That was later disputed. Anglin family members suggested they met with their brothers at the prison where they paid off the guards. Family and friends of both the Anglins and Morris claimed they have met with them since the escape. There is suggestion that they all ended up in Brazil. According to this CBS article, John wrote a letter to CBS San Fransisco saying, “My name is John Anglin. I escape from Alcatraz in June 1962 with my brother Clarence and Frank Morris. I’m 83 years old and in bad shape. I have cancer. Yes we all made it that night but barely!” This led to the FBI reopening the case. The letter also told the paper that Morris died in 2008, and Clarence died in 2011.

Escapees

Another huge moment for the island came after the prison closed in 1963. In 1964, for four hours, a group of forty Sioux Indians, journalists, photographers, and a lawyer occupied the island. This was a publicity stunt for a movement to increase media attention on the Civil Rights protests already occurring in San Francisco. They claimed the US Government offered them 47 cents per acre when they originally took the island from the Indians, and they were offering to pay the government back in full: $9.40. Under threat of a felony charge, they left. In November 1969, after the loss of the Indian Center in San Francisco, and threat the island would be turned over for commercial use, another symbolic occupation took place. Though only 14 of the attempted 89 occupiers actually landed on the island at first, nearly 400 occupied it at its most populated time. This number came after many friends and family of the occupiers, supported by many artists and interest groups brought supplies to the occupiers. This occupation lasted 19 months before it ended peacefully, and lead to much of the graffiti on the island.

alcatraz-occupation.jpg2_

The history of the island was as much for me and my interests as it was for you. My own personal experiences will be continued in next week’s blog post, along with a comparison to the fictional Azkaban.

–V

 

 

Works Consulted

Fund, United States Disciplinary Barracks Pacific Branch Improvement. The Rock. 1915, https://books.google.com/books?id=_T1OAAAAYAAJ.

Thompson, Erwin H. The Rock: A History of Alcatraz Island 1847-1972. Department of Interior. Denver, Co.

“Full History.” Alcatraz History, Ocean View, http://www.alcatrazhistory.com/.

“FBI History.” Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rovi Corporation, web.archive.org/web/20080708204018/http://www.fbi.gov/fbihistory.htm.

Sullivan, Laura. “Escape From Alcatraz And A 47-Year Manhunt.” NPR, NPR, 21 Sept. 2009, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112746496&ps=cprs.

“Alcatraz Inmates Survived Infamous 1962 Escape, Letter Suggests.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 24 Jan. 2018, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/alcatraz-inmates-survived-infamous-1962-escape-letter-suggests/.

 

“Half-Hanged Mary” by Margaret Atwood

Let me first say, it was real hard to find the full text online. It is a longer poem, so many versions online have cut whole verses. Originally, I was going to just post a link to the poem, but the only copy of the full text I found was annotated with questions to prompt middle and high school aged kids to think about the poem in a certain way. Not that it isn’t helpful, but I’m a believer that everyone should approach literature with a clean slate, before being influenced in a certain direction. Therefore, I’m posting a clean copy of the poem before I give you my thoughts. And yes I know the formatting is a bit off. Technology failed me today.

“Half-Hanged Mary” by Margaret Atwood

7pm

Rumour was loose in the air
hunting for some neck to land on.
I was milking the cow,
the barn door open to the sunset.

I didn’t feel the aimed word hit
and go in like a soft bullet.
I didn’t feel the smashed flesh
closing over it like water
over a thrown stone.

I was hanged for living alone
for having blue eyes and a sunburned skin,
tattered skirts, few buttons,
a weedy farm in my own name,
and a surefire cure for warts;
Oh yes, and breasts,
and a sweet pear hidden in my body.
Whenever there’s talk of demons
these come in handy.

8pm
The rope was an improvisation.
With time they’d have thought of axes.

Up I go like a windfall in reverse,
a blackened apple stuck back onto the tree.
Trussed hands, rag in my mouth,
a flag raised to salute the moon,
old bone‐faced goddess, old original,
who once took blood in return for food.
The men of the town stalk homeward,
excited by their show of hate,
their own evil turned inside out like a glove,
and me wearing it.

9pm

The bonnets come to stare,
the dark skirts also,
the upturned faces in between,
mouths closed so tight they’re lipless.
I can see down into their eyeholes
and nostrils. I can see their fear.
You were my friend, you too.
I cured your baby, Mrs.,
and flushed yours out of you,
Non‐wife, to save your life.
Help me down? You don’t dare.
I might rub off on you,
like soot or gossip. Birds
of a feather burn together,
though as a rule ravens are singular.

In a gathering like this one
the safe place is the background,
pretending you can’t dance,
the safe stance pointing a finger.

I understand. You can’t spare
anything, a hand, a piece of bread, a shawl
against the cold,
a good word. Lord
knows there isn’t much
to go around. You need it all.

10pm

Well God, now that I’m up here
with maybe some time to kill
away from the daily
fingerwork, legwork, work
at the hen level,
we can continue our quarrel,
the one about free will.
Is it my choice that I’m dangling
like a turkey’s wattles from this
more than indifferent tree?
If Nature is Your alphabet,
what letter is this rope?
Does my twisting body spell out Grace?
I hurt, therefore I am.
Faith, Charity, and Hope
are three dead angels
falling like meteors or
burning owls across
the profound blank sky of Your face.

12 midnight
My throat is taut against the rope
choking off words and air;
I’m reduced to knotted muscle.
Blood bulges in my skull,
my clenched teeth hold it in;
I bite down on despair
Death sits on my shoulder like a crow
waiting for my squeezed beet
of a heart to burst
so he can eat my eyes
or like a judge
muttering about sluts and punishment
and licking his lips
or like a dark angel
insidious in his glossy feathers
whispering to me to be easy
on myself. To breathe out finally.
Trust me, he says, caressing
me. Why suffer?
A temptation, to sink down
into these definitions.
To become a martyr in reverse,
or food, or trash.
To give up my own words for myself,
my own refusals.
To give up knowing.
To give up pain.
To let go.

2am
Out of my mouth is coming, at some
distance from me, a thin gnawing sound
which you could confuse with prayer except that
praying is not constrained.
Or is it, Lord?
Maybe it’s more like being strangled
than I once thought. Maybe it’s
a gasp for air, prayer.
Did those men at Pentecost
want flames to shoot out of their heads?
Did they ask to be tossed
on the ground, gabbling like holy poultry,
eyeballs bulging?
As mine are, as mine are.
There is only one prayer; it is not
the knees in the clean nightgown
on the hooked rug
I want this, I want that.
Oh far beyond.
Call it Please. Call it Mercy.
Call it Not yet, not yet,
as Heaven threatens to explode
inwards in fire and shredded flesh, and the angels caw.

3am
Wind seethes in the leaves around
me the tree exude night
birds night birds yell inside
my ears like stabbed hearts my heart
stutters in my fluttering cloth
body I dangle with strength
going out of me the wind seethes

in my body tattering
the words I clench
my fists hold No
talisman or silver disc my lungs
flail as if drowning I call
on you as witness I did
no crime I was born I have borne I
bear I will be born this is
a crime I will not
acknowledge leaves and wind
hold onto me
I will not give in
6am

Sun comes up, huge and blaring,
no longer a simile for God.
Wrong address. I’ve been out there.
Time is relative, let me tell you
I have lived a millennium.
I would like to say my hair turned white
overnight, but it didn’t.
Instead it was my heart:
bleached out like meat in water.
Also, I’m about three inches taller.
This is what happens when you drift in space
listening to the gospel
of the red‐hot stars.
Pinpoints of infinity riddle my brain,
a revelation of deafness.
At the end of my rope
I testify to silence.
Don’t say I’m not grateful.

Most will have only one death.
I will have two.

8am

When they came to harvest my corpse
(open your mouth, close your eyes)
cut my body from the rope,
surprise, surprise:
I was still alive.
Tough luck, folks,
I know the law:
you can’t execute me twice
for the same thing. How nice.
I fell to the clover, breathed it in,
and bared my teeth at them
in a filthy grin.
You can imagine how that went over.
Now I only need to look
out at them through my sky‐blue eyes.
They see their own ill will
staring them in the forehead
and turn tail
Before, I was not a witch.
But now I am one.
Later
My body of skin waxes and wanes
around my true body,
a tender nimbus.
I skitter over the paths and fields

mumbling to myself like crazy,
mouth full of juicy adjectives
and purple berries.
The townsfolk dive headfirst into the bushes
to get out of my way.
My first death orbits my head,
an ambiguous nimbus,
medallion of my ordeal.
No one crosses that circle.
Having been hanged for something
I never said,
I can now say anything I can say.
Holiness gleams on my dirty fingers,
I eat flowers and dung,
two forms of the same thing, I eat mice
and give thanks, blasphemies
gleam and burst in my wake
like lovely bubbles.
I speak in tongues,
my audience is owls.
My audience is God,
because who the hell else could understand me?
Who else has been dead twice?
The words boil out of me,
coil after coil of sinuous possibility.
The cosmos unravels from my mouth,
all fullness, all vacancy.

“Half-Hanged Mary” PDF

 

Alright, so… This poem has it all. So it seems to be in freeverse, because there isn’t exactly a rhyme scheme (that doesn’t mean it is completely free from rhyme, just no glaring pattern). There isn’t really a set meter, though parts of it seem to have a bit of a rhythm. Atwood tends to stick to certain sound patterns for parts of the poem, specifically in the 3am section. I’ll talk more about that in a bit.

First I wanted to go through some of the themes that stuck out to me. First and most obviously, and most relevant to The Handmaid’s Tale, is the feminism. Mary, the narrator, tells us that she was arrested for the way she looks, for having a feminine figure and boobs. This is probably less a suggestion that colonists were just rounding up any woman they see, and instead is a nod to the rhetoric used against women accused of witchcraft. Often these women were labeled succubi, or female demon seducers.

I love the shade she throws at the men who are tying her up. She implies they weren’t smart enough to just execute her immediately, and instead left her to die. People came to look at her hanging there, but also are we surprised? These are the same people that went and watched the revolutionaries on the battlefield with their picnic baskets. The women who came to look are all indebted to her in one way or another. She says, “I cured your baby, Mrs./ and flushed yours out of you,/ non-wife, to save your life” (9pm). I think this is a clear allusion to abortion, specifically termination of the fetus to save the life of the unwed mother. This could mean something was wrong with the baby and was hurting the mother, OR it could be a suggestion that if anyone were to find out, the men who hung Mary could try to hang her too. Regardless, this behavior, curing babies and aborting others would have been grounds for execution anyway–further proof Mary’s a witch.

The section 10pm is beautiful and tragic. She begins to question her faith. In the following section, temptation to give into death is everywhere. She feels it around her as her body begins to give out on her.

The 3 am section… I noticed several things about this section. First, some of the sound patterns (seethes and leaves) sounds a bit like wind, and hanging there alone all night would definitely make you notice things like the way the wind sounds around you. The repetition of birds and hearts reminds me a bit of birds chirping, perhaps other sounds Mary is noticing during the night. She is repetitive here, talking in circles, a bit like a person swinging from a rope. She’s fighting temptation.

As the sun rises with the 6am and 8am sections, the poem begins to get a bit more hopeful. She is starting to sound like a survive, rather than a victim. The snark we saw at the beginning of the poem, with her criticism of the men who hung her returns. She notes that few people get to experience death twice, and she will. As we stated in our background episode, she doesn’t experience this second death for many more years.

At the end of this poem, she seems to be gloating a bit. She’s happy this happened, because now she is safe. There is a bit of double jeopardy here… She knows she can’t be hung for the same crime twice. She is free. She feels

Overall, I really loved this poem. It took a few read throughs before I picked up on the complexity of this poem. At surface level, it seems child-like, an easy poem to understand. However, as with any poem, the details are in the layers.

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

It is a phrase that means rebellion. It is a phrase that means resistance. It means dissidence, and upheaval. It means friendship, and solidarity. It means “Don’t let the bastards grind you down!” Most of all, it means hope.

Nolite

It also doesn’t mean what you think it means.

What started off as a schoolroom Latin joke, has now become a rallying cry of feminism and rebellion. People have tattooed the phrase on their bodies. Think about that! People have permanently tattooed a fake Latin phrase onto their body, because it means so much to so many people. It serves as a reminder that someone out there will always be there to be your friend. It means you aren’t alone.

Of course, like many others, the phrase served as an interest for me as I read the book. Waterford tells us that someone was messing with our narrator, and the phrase is nothing more than that. Even if it is fake, it doesn’t take away from the meaning projected onto it by Handmaid’s Tale fans. So I wanted to give this iconic quote a closer look.

According to both Vanity Fair and Refinery29, the phrase is actually a joke from Atwood’s school days. It is grammatically incorrect, and uses two words that are not Latin at all: ‘bastardes’ and ‘carborundorum’. According to both articles, neither of these words exist in true, ancient Latin. The correct translation would read something similar to “Illegitimi non carborundum” or don’t let the illegitimate grind you down. It just doesn’t pack the same punch.

‘Carborundorum’ is actually a word, it is just an English word given a Latin ending. According to the OED it was first used around the 19th or 20th centuries, with some suggestion it could have been used as advertising language made up to mean “to grind” as in like grains into flour.

The correct version of the phrase, Illegitimi non carborundum, is actually recorded in history. It is attributed to American slang in the early 1900s, and was used as a rallying cry in WWII. Oddly enough, the phrase most recently has appeared on a plaque on former Speaker John Boehner’s desk.

Illegitimi Non Carborundum

Regardless of how bad the Latin is, or how many words are made up, the phrase has meaning to some people. Language changes based on usage, and meanings of words change all the time, i.e. literally. As humans, we have a need to communicate effectively and efficiently, and we tend to make up new words all the time. Imagine asking your great great grandmother to google something for you, or to search the web!

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum means something to us. It means hope.

 

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/05/handmaids-tale-nolite-te-bastardes-carborundorum-origin-margaret-atwood

https://www.refinery29.com/2017/05/152811/handmaids-tale-latin-phrase-meaning

My Experience with Harry Potter

Hey y’all.

I’m sure at some point in our latest episodes I’ve gone over this, but I really want to talk about my experience with Harry Potter.

Now, I’m sure there are a lot of you out there who grew up reading the series, much like Anya and Victoria, but I was not a reader. Reading involved a lot of focus and, to be honest, all I wanted to do when I was a child was be outside. I never really understood reading. I would never focus on it enough to really engage my imagination, and I feel like I lost out on a lot because of that.

It’s funny when I think about it now because younger me loved everything magic related, and older me believes reading is magic. Younger me really loved things that seemed impossible, older me still loves those things, but I feel like younger me would have loved a story about kids saving a bunch of nitwit adults and dealing with the extraordinarily harsh reality that is growing up, making friends, making enemies, and trying to find out where you belong (current me still faces those realities, but that’s an entirely different story). But even though I loved those ideas, I never read the Harry Potter series.

And while I feel like I missed out on the story as told by the incomparable J.K. Rowling, I don’t feel like I missed out on Harry Potter.

As a person who studies books for a living, I think it was really difficult for me to read Harry Potter for the first time with the critical background I have developed over my years of studying books. Now, I’m sure I’ll offend a few people by saying this, but the first two books were genuinely a struggle for me. They were so simple and, as someone who saw the movies first, I found it hard to imagine the amount of detail I had seen on screen in something that is so blatantly a children’s book. Maybe that says more about my not-as-active adult imagination than it does about the books, but I don’t think the books were terrible. I just found them hard to get through. I wanted more. I wanted to see these characters and places as vividly in my mind as I had seen them on screen. Which is why I cannot say I feel like I missed out on Harry Potter.

Yes, I missed out on a few things like Peeves and the Death Day scene (just thinking of the first two books in general), but I did not miss out on being brought on the journey with our three friends, Harry, Hermione, and Ron.

For someone like younger me, who would have rather been outside collecting all kinds of cuts and bruises from dawn till dusk, I think the movies did a fantastic job at making their audience feel like they were figuring everything out with the characters. And I know this has everything to do with the way J.K. wrote the story, but I did not feel like I was missing enough to warrant me fighting myself to read the books as a child.  I feel like I would have hated every second of it and ultimately that would have made me hate reading more than I already did. I’m a firm believer that to really get into reading you have to find the right thing for you, something that you see yourself in, and I know for a lot of you that might have been Harry Potter. You are lucky that you found yourself in a series as special as this one. But for me, reading came much later. The Harry Potter movies were more my speed and, while they glossed over a few things, I was lucky enough to have a very patient sister who had read the books and would answer any and all questions I had about what I could potentially be missing, which was almost always  answered in the movies, I’m just one of those people who wants to know how it all plays out and still loves watching it happen even though I already know what’s coming.

In hindsight, Harry Potter was the perfect bildungsroman for our generation, and I believe it holds a lot of power in how people of my generation look at the world. When faced with the end of life as we know it, the idea of coming together and raising our voices and taking action to defeat darkness and evil is a pretty powerful message. I firmly believe it is one my generation is trying to spread in our current time of crisis, but maybe I just like to hope we will stand together when the shit comes down…

Like me, I don’t think you HAVE to read the books to get the driving ideas behind the story. Whichever platform you prefer will still give you those warm, heartbreaking, triumphant, devastating, fearful, and hopeful feelings that make this series one of the most beloved series of all time.

And for that, I would like to say Thank you. Thank you, J.K. and Warner Brother’s Studios for making our world more magical than ever before.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes: “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

(reading light or the light of a screen, your choice.)

Mr. Darcy vs. Mr. Darcy… vs. Mr. Darcy?

Welcome to the ULTIMATE SHOWDOWN!

overly-manly-man
DARCY VS DARCY VS DARCY!

In the blue corner, we have the undeniable favorite, Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC Mini-series, Pride & Prejudice.

In the yellow corner, the underdog, Daniel Vincent Gordh as Mr. Darcy in the 2012 web series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
AND IN THE RED CORNER, MY PERSONAL FAVORITE AND ULTIMATE DOUCHEY DREAM, MATTHEW MACFADYEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (in the 2005 movie, Pride & Prejudice)

Clearly, I have a favorite. Now, I know there are people out there who don’t agree with me, I mean Colin Firth is labeled above as the undeniable favorite for a reason, but hear me out. I love Colin Firth. How could you not? I love both of his Mr. Darcy characters (Don’t forget Bridget Jones’ Diary), but if we are talking about adaptations of the book, and we are, then I have to give it to Matthew Macfadyen.

Matthew Macfadyen is the best Darcy. I won’t say much because I feel like our episode gets at why I chose him, but  I will say… I just don’t think Colin Firth’s performance was the Darcy in the book. I mean, he’s closed off, but he’s so awkward in his lovable Colin Firth way, and I just don’t see that as Mr. Darcy. It felt a lot like Colin Firth was playing Mr. Darcy whereas Matthew Macfadyen’s portrayal was Mr. Darcy.

I’m sorry, but if you disagree that’s cool! We want to hear from you! I want to know who you think deserves the Darcy throne. We talk about the three adaptations mentioned above, which sorry Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Your Darcy was great for the adaptation and adorable because he was cute, but I mean… Matthew Macfadyen…

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Anyway, like I was saying, we talk a small number of other adaptations, but there are SO MANY, and we would love to hear your favorites, and maybe we could make another episode in the future if y’all want and revisit this epic debate.

Come visit us on Social Media or email us or comment below!

Episode 1: Reflections and an Explanation

Adventures in Podcasting

Ahoy, mateys! Gather round for the tale of our maiden voyage upon the S.S. Loaded Literature!


New endeavors often begin with a walloping dose of enthusiasm. Ideas pollinate the air as the new venture begins and excitement blossoms. All the hard stuff—the real nitty-gritty planning—lies just over the horizon where you can’t see it when a new idea sprouts its pretty, little head in your mind. But, as you’re enthusiastically frolicking through a field of new possibilities, you should keep one eye on that horizon, so you don’t end up tripping over your own feet when you hit the implementation phase of your venture.

We, the lovely ladies of Loaded Literature, know first hand the importance of keeping one eye on the horizon. The idea for this podcast came to us last year. Our first recording attempt occurred in January. You may be wondering: what the hell happened between January and June? To be succinct, we face planted. For some of us, this was a both a metaphorical and a literal faceplant.


We started off strong, though! As we describe in our analysis episode of Pride & Prejudice, the tea party was a hit. The food was great—minus my own cakes—and the drinks were flowing. Probably flowing a little too much.  As we finally sat down (drinks at the ready) to record after a night of nervous eating, we couldn’t do much but giggle. And overthink our format. And then spend almost three hours not talking about the plot of the novel, or the adaptations, or anything more important than Charlotte Lucas. Or that’s as much as I can remember, considering I ended the night on the face down on the floor.


Since that first recording, we ended up totally changing the format of the show, discovered a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making a podcast that no one tells you about, and we learned not to pregame before recording (at least not too much). Basically, we found out the hard way that turning your bright new idea into a reality is not as easy as talking about it—whudda thunk? But, we gathered together our remaining chutzpah, and tried again. I’m proud to say that it has been much smoother recording since then.


After our second attempt at recording Pride & Prejudice was a success, we were left with a conundrum: what to do with our first attempt? We had a couple of ideas. Saving it as a bonus episode for a later date. Turning the best bits into a blooper reel. Scrapping it entirely. As we listened though, we found that there were some bits simply too charming and genuine to leave out. So, what’s a gaggle of hags to do? Why, call upon their good friend and co-host Victor-ia “Frankenstein” Grey to scrap the freshest bits together and bring it to life!

 

So as you’re listening to our very first episode, please don’t be alarmed at any sudden changes in sound quality, jarring topic jumping, or strange misinformation (please read the following post for edits and important information we were unable to shove into the recording last minute!). Don’t listen to the first episode and view it as a bunch of audio clips of drunk women slapped together. Instead, choose to think of it as distilled enthusiasm. The past week has been a wild one for us. Victoria “Rumplstilskin” Grey has been spinning recordings into podcasting gold. Hale has been doing all the heavy lifting clerical work. And I’ve been crying in the shower. We made it over the horizon though and still have enthusiasm to burn.

Following episodes will be better, we promise. And if I am ever allowed to write a blog post again, I promise to work with more cohesive metaphors. Until then, enjoy listening and hop aboard!
— Anya

Welcome to Loaded Literature!

Hey guys, welcome! We’re glad to have you.

This is the official blog of the Loaded Literature Podcast. We are literature majors, bibliophiles, and book club members. We analyze and discuss literature of all kinds, old and new, canon and popular fiction, well known and obscure. We cover it all! And we’ll be drinking.

Every month we will cover a different book, and pair it with booze. We’ll often pair it thematically; something inspired by the text. We will try to pair it with food as well, but we make no promises there will be food for each text.

Here’s a teaser of our first pairing. Since we’re covering Jane Austen, we decided to go all out and have a tea party!

Tea Party

About three weeks out of each month we’ll release a segment of our discussion.

First we’ll cover the summary, the food pairing, and the analysis. SPOILER ALERT! When listening to a podcast about literature, expect endings to be ruined. We plan for the summary and analysis episode to be the longest. This is our meaty discussion, where we talk characters and relationships, situations and epic moments, what-ifs, comedy, tragedy, and literary techniques. The second episode will cover the contextual stuff. This episode will be shorter, and contain information we deem necessary for interpreting the texts we pick. These pieces of information may include, but are not limited to biographical information about the author, historical context surrounding the text, publication history if its interesting, and the random themes that pique our interests. An example of a theme from an upcoming episode will be mythological stuff, ’cause monsters, yo. This segment may also include some of our weird interests that come from the texts. This will all make sense when we get to Harry Potter, because we’ll only need to go over author bio once, which leaves more time for talking about magic. Finally in episode three we will cover adaptations. We understand not all of our texts will have adaptations, so instead we will pick some themes from the book and discuss media portrayals of it. This will make sense when we get to Three Day Road. ATTN: SUPERNATURAL FANS! Wendigos are coming.

Occasionally (when we have the time and inspiration) we will release mini episodes. These may include a week four of the book of the month, where we discuss poems that relate to the texts we’re reading. We may also occasionally release a book review. We might even do these on request! We will discuss our thoughts on the book, in a super casual way, and attempt to keep spoilers out of it. Also, don’t hold your breath on these. We are busy working women! We’ll get to them when we have time.

But seriously though. We want your involvement. We want you to feel a part of our book club. Send us requests, and if we can’t get to it in the book of the month, we’ll try to get to it in a book review. We have a long list of some of the best women and men in literature, from all over the world, and it keeps growing by the day.

Now for our inspiration for the blog. We wanted to create a way for our club members to feel connected to our podcast. We will post information about each episode on our blog, recipes for each of our pairings, information about the text, pictures, and (hopefully) some of our research to make this blog a resource for students as well.

For the first episode for example, we made many tasty goodies, but most importantly, our Regents Punch. In the first blog you can expect to find a recipe for what we dubbed “the Prince’s Jungle Juice.” We also made many other goodies, but we don’t want to spoil the first blog for you.

Here’s the Prince’s Jungle Juice

Regent's Punch 2

Notice also our “Next Book” announcement on our webpage. We will update this each month so those who want to read with us have plenty of time to prepare. Our first book will be Pride & Prejudice, so dust off your copy and get reading! We don’t have an official release date yet for our first episode, but we will update the webpage the second we know when to expect it. In the meantime, find us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr to keep up with our progress in building this thing!

We look forward to book clubbing with you!

-Loaded Literature