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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.

Harry Potter in Alaska for Winter 2011

February 1, 2011 in British literature, children's literature, Winter Travel

Photo by Lindy MapesHarry Potter is a phenomenon.  We all know that.  Even though J.K. Rowling put out her last Harry Potter book a while ago, readers still love him and want to believe in Harry and his magical powers.  His world is a world where anything can happen and you can be a hero, no matter how small, young or old you are.

When I first read Harry Potter, I believe I was in college.  But what I most remember is passing around Harry Potter books as a Peace Corps volunteer in Estonia.  Winters in Estonia ranged from around 0 degrees to -30 degrees.  The wind pummeled me every morning as I walked out the door.  It was cold and dark for eight months of the year, and one of the best activities was to read.  Therefore, several of us volunteers passed around the Harry Potter books to read for entertainment.

That’s when I got the idea to use Harry Potter in the classroom.  I taught English as a foreign language and knew my seniors, who were advanced English speakers, would love the world of Harry.  And they did.  It kept them learning and entertained on those cold, dark days of winter.

To cope with yet another winter storm, we proudly present our latest article entitled A Harry Potter State of Mind in Winter Alaska.  Make yourself a hot cup of tea and enjoy!

My Lacock & Bath Travels

September 29, 2010 in Bath England, budget travel, Classic Writers, Lacock Village, National Trust, Southern England Literary Trip, transportation, Travel, travel deals

Lacock Village by Jennifer CiottaMy Southern England trip continues as I edge closer to my time ending in Salisbury. As I write this post, it’s a washout as the Brits like to say. In other words, it’s raining heavily. Therefore, yesterday was my big excursion; I visited Lacock and Bath in one day … and without a car.  Here’s how it went:

I took the train from Salisbury station to Trowbridge.  I have to admit I much prefer the buses because they’re much cheaper and you get to see much more sitting atop the double decker.  The train costs 10 pounds for only a 30 minute or less trip.  The day before I took a bus ride for 30 minutes for 3 pounds, 80 pence. It’s a huge difference to a budget traveler.

I got off at Trowbridge, a bit lost, but a nice Brit walked me to the town center and showed me to the right bus.  Trowbridge is the county seat and a busy, little town, and I was glad I was able to see it.  I hopped aboard the 234 (or you can take the X34) toward Chippenham.  I made sure it stopped at Lacock, even though it clearly said it on the sign.  The bus cost 4 pounds, 15 pence.

The ride was charming on my absolute favorite, the double decker bus.  We went through villages and farmland and even got to see a version of a British trailer park.

Then we arrived at Lacock after a 30 minute or so ride. Lacock is the National Trust village where scenes from world-famous BBC films such as the original Pride & Prejudice (the Colin Firth version) and Cranford were shot.  Scenes from two Harry Potter films were shot here as well.

Lacock is a step back in time.  It looks like an 18th to 19th century, English village. The English tudors, flower boxes, lush green landscapes help the tourist step back in time.  It was easy to see how Lacock was a film set.  Simply throw down some dirt for the roads and place actors in old-fashioned clothes and you’re ready to shoot.

Kitten in Lacock by Jennifer CiottaI walked around Lacock, winding through the cobblestone streets, peering up at the perfect English cottages, adoring a kitten in a window (see photo) and even stopping off at the bakery to smell some goodies. I stopped outside The Abbey and took some photos through the fence and thought of Jane Austen. This was a perfect setting for her novel.

After sitting on a bench and eating in Lacock, I walked down the road towards Chippenham and caught the X34 (you can also take the 234) to Chippenham.  Only a 10 minute ride and 2 pounds, 40 pence, I got off at the Chippenham bus station. Alas, there was a bus waiting to go to Bath.  I hopped aboard for 4 pounds, 45 pence.

It took over an hour to get to Bath.  The bus was not double decker, and the ride was uneventful until we approached just outside of Bath …

Please continue reading about my travels in Bath on the Editorial Director’s Forum.

And don’t forget to read about my non-touristy, Stonehenge visit.

– Jennifer, Editorial Network Diector

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

March 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up the relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  EnjoyPhoto from!

  • In her piece on the immensely talented American author Shirley Jackson, Joan Schenkar introduces her subject as “Stanley’s wife,” which is, unfortunately, how she was seen for much of her life.  However, as Schenkar shows, Jackson was so much more than simply a wife – she was self-professed witch, a master of manipulation, and a true artist with words.  For more insights into Jackson and the literary culture of Bennington, Vermont, check out Shenkar’s piece in it’s entirety here.
  • Harry Potter fans will flock to the new ride at University Studios in Orlando, Florida.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open on June 18th and feature a virtual trip through the magical world of Hogwarts, including a stop at Ollivander’s Wand Shop and an interactive Quidditch match.  Sign me up.
  • Rest in peace Ai, award-winning poet and all-around admirable woman.  Born Florence Anthony, she changed her name to the Japanese word for love before receiving the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975 and the National Book Award for her poetry collection “Vice.”  Take a moment to mourn the literary loss and read her poetry here.
  • Books can take us many places, but one of my favorite places to explore through the written word is only a few steps away: My own kitchen.  There is something truly magical about a novel that can not only transport you in space and time, but also tickle your tastebuds.  With this in mind, let’s try to recall our favorite culinary moments (mine from the children’s book series Redwall) with this article from the Guardian on food and fiction.
  • Have you been following March Madness?  No?  Well for those of us more interested in the Food Court than the basketball court, here is a fun way to participate:  Book tournaments.
  • And finally, Tim O’Brien appeared at Barnes & Noble earlier this week to discuss The Things They Carried on the twentieth anniversary of its publication.  An audio recording of the interview, in which O’Brien discusses storytelling, his most famous work, and the tragic legacy of Vietnam,  is available online.
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