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Halloween Reflections

October 30, 2012 in Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Historical Texts

Halloween’s literature illustrates the tradition’s evolution through a convergence of cultures. The festival dates back to an ancient Celtic tradition celebrated on October 31. The Celts celebrated a festival called Samhain to mark the end of the final harvest. Food was in surplus as death lingered in the chilly fall air. These contrasting circumstances may be understood as the reason the Celts believed Samhain was the time when the veil between the dead and the living was at its thinnest.

Celtic and Christian cultures merged as Germanics began to populate Ireland and the British Isles. Christians celebrated Hallowmas, old English for All Saints Day, on November 1. All Saints Day was a time to remember the dead through prayer. Influenced by the Celtic idea of otherworldly contact, Christians felt that their prayers for the dead would be most effective if sent on the day when the spiritual world could be breached.

The tradition that took place on the Eve of All Hallow’s Day became known as All Hallows Eve. Merging two cultural perspectives on the same day, All Hallows Eve used the idea of the “otherworld’s” proximity and reverence for the dead to create the foundations for a festival we call Halloween.

Centuries of cultural confluence created the modern Halloween of costumes, jack-o’-lanterns, and candy. Ideas about religion, culture, and modernity have all influenced the tradition, but one theme has remained through it all. Halloween is the day the portal that separates the living from the dead is peeled open and the two worlds are believed to interact.

Mirrors are not often associated with Halloween, but, in literature, the two are thematically connected. In literature, mirrors are used to represent portals to other worlds. Mirrors are central in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Brothers Grimm’s Snow White, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Though mirrors are rarely used in direct reference to Halloween, they have been used in literature to provide a physical divide between the living and spiritual worlds.

Halloween is the day when that divide is believed to be as thin as the pane of glass used to represent it. This Halloween, most mirrors will be used for admiring our creepy, bizarre, and often revealing costumes, but beware the few that may become the doorways for the encroaching unknown.

Behind The Article: Anne Frank Lives On

February 20, 2011 in Behind The Article, Historical Texts, travel to amsterdam

Anne Frank House in Amsterdam / Photo by Bungle, CC LicenseAnne Frank is a legend.

But is she a historical legend or a literary legend?  That’s the question literary expert Francine Prose tackles in her book entitled Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife.  Literary Traveler writer Hannah May takes it one step further as she examines Prose’s conclusions of Frank combined with her own feelings about the young Holocaust victim, including her visit to The Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam.

In this installment of  “Behind The Article”, we asked Hannah May her opinions about Frank’s literary and historical impact:

Literary Traveler: Since Holocaust survivors will soon start dying out, how will The Diary of Anne Frank serve to carry on history?  Will it become an even more important historical document?

Hannah May: Most definitely. As both a first-person account of the Holocaust and influential piece of literature, it delves into the historical moment and the psyche of the people in it. As less people are able to testify and tell their story, it will immortalise both the time and people, suspending their voices in modern consciousness for years to come.

LT: Did anything strike you as shocking when researching this article esp. reading Francine Prose?

HM: I hadn’t realised how people were so polarised and vehemently either opposed or celebrated the book to such extreme levels. Despite the controversies, claims of fraud and various ways it has been reworked and interpreted, it continues to endure as millions still return to the original text that so beautifully conveys the resilience, strength and vulnerability of the human spirit.

Francine’s analytical reading of the book unveils proof of its intended literary and artistic nature, making it all the more tragic and shocking: Anne wanted people to know her story, whatever the consequences.

LT: Is there anywhere else worth noting for our literary travelers to visit around The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam?  (i.e. restaurant, bar, bookshop, other tourist attraction, park, etc.)

HM: I would always recommend the nearby Museum Plein for the vast collections of internationally renowned art, especially the Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh. Cobra is a cool cafe-meets-gallery situated in the middle of the Plein with excellent coffee. Theater Carré is nearby as is the picturesque Vondelpark; both striking. Noordermarkt is a younger, hip area of the city where you can dine at Finch. And the bustling Leidseplein (or Red Light District) is always worth a visit.

Please continue onto the article entitled Anne Frank’s Lasting Literary Impact.

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