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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: Oscar Wilde at Pere-Lachaise

February 10, 2011 in Behind The Article, British literature, Classic Writers, Travel to Paris France

Jim Morrison Grave / Photo by Kevin E.G. PerryOur latest article, Jim Morrison & Lipstick Kisses at Oscar Wilde’s Pere-Lachaise, is very rock-n-roll.  Wilde was flamboyant, fun-loving and ostentatious, so why not be buried in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France, along with other celebrities such as The Doors Jim Morrison, Chopin, Proust and even Edith Piaf?

Oscar Wilde found a resting place that suited him.  He is buried in a grave that is adorned by literary fans and fans who just want to leave their lipstick kisses on his tombstone.  Kevin E.G. Perry, the writer of the Oscar Wilde article, completely agrees: Oscar is living in death, the way he loved living in life.  And good for him.  We should all be so lucky.

A new literary tradition we’re trying at LT is to go “Behind The Article.”  Now you can read more fascinating tidbits and observations about the writer and the place … things that weren’t included in the article.  For this blog post, we asked Perry a couple of questions that we’re sure our readers would love to know.

Literary Traveler: We hear you visited Edith Piaf’s grave as well.  Did it evoke any different emotions than visiting Wilde’s or Morrison’s graves?

Kevin E.G. Perry: Edith Piaf’s grave is very close to Wilde’s, but it’s an altogether more modest affair. It’s a family plot which displays only the inscription ‘Famille Gassion-Piaf’, and you’d easily miss it if someone hadn’t attached her photograph. This simplicity and the fact that it is set back away from the path seemed to add to the air of reverence that surrounds it–and makes it even more startling to think that when she was buried there, over 100,000 mourners attended the ceremony.

LT: Can you tell our readers a little more about The Doors fans at Jim Morrison’s grave?  How many fans were there?  Did you find the experience overwhelming or overly-touristy?

KP: On the day I visited Pere-Lachaise there were six or seven Doors fans who seemed to be spending the day at Jim Morrison’s grave, quite apart from the ebb and flow of other cemetery visitors. They were smoking cigarettes and playing music at a low volume–the latest torch holders in a perpetual vigil that has lasted almost 40 years.

We hope you enjoyed this first installment of “Behind The Article.”  We’ll keep them coming.  In the meantime, please enjoy Oscar Wilde at Pere-Lachaise.

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