Monday, March 30, 2015

Isaac Asimov - Biography

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), painted by Rowena Morrill

q       Isaac Asimov was a biochemistry professor at Boston University (BU) and a writer on many subjects, but focusing mainly on Sci-Fi.

q       He wrote over 500 books. He's considered a master of hard Sci-Fi and is one of the "Big Three" in the genre.

q       Asimov is famous for writing several series of books, all linked together into one great big universe, including: the Robot series, the Galactic Empire series, and the Foundation series.

q       Asimov is most famous for his three laws of robotics, crucial to the programming of any artificial intelligence:

1.      A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2.      A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3.      A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

q       His Foundation series is famous for its study of psychohistory, a fictional branch of science that can predict the future, based on principles of psychology and sociology, combined with tons of population statistics.

q       Asimov wrote hundreds of short stories, often quoting from plays by Gilbert & Sullivan. "Nightfall" was considered the greatest Sci-Fi short story of all time in 1964.

q       Asimov's non-fiction includes a Guide to Science, a Chronology of Science & Discovery, Understanding Physics, a Chronology of History, and works on math and chemistry.

q       Asimov also wrote a series of Sci-Fi for young adults, under the pen name Paul French. It was called the Lucky Starr series.

q       Asimov was president of the American Humanist Association (AHA), and vice president of Mensa, a club of highly intelligent people. When Asimov died, his title as president of the AHA went to his good friend Kurt Vonnegut.

q       He was also a member of the Baker's Street Irregulars, a club dedicated to Sherlock Holmes, and Asimov wrote several mysteries, in his Black Widowers series.

q       Asimov was also a founding member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry which investigated stories of paranormal activity.

q       He was also good friends with Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, and Isaac served as a special science consultant on the original Star Trek film.

q       Asimov has been honoured by people naming an award after him, as well as a school, an asteroid, and a crater on Mars. All his personal writings have been archived at BU.

Personal Life:

Isaak Yudovich Ozimov, was born in Petrovichi, Russia, to a Jewish family. He had a younger brother and sister. They immigrated to America when he was three. He spoke Yiddish and English at home, never learning Russian.

His family started a candy store in Brooklyn, which also sold newspapers and magazines, which Asimov loved to read. It was a major influence on his work. His father forbade him to read pulp fiction, which he regarded as trash, but young Isaac was able to read anything with 'science' in the title.

Asimov went to public schools and graduated high school at fifteen. He was then accepted to Seth Low Junior College, at Columbia University. He first studied zoology, but didn't want to dissect animals, so he switched to chemistry. He earned his Masters at age twenty-one, and his PhD at twenty-eight. In between degrees, he married Gertrude Blugerman.

During WWII, he worked at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia's Navy Yard. After the war, he was drafted and served nine months in the U.S. Army.

After gaining his PhD, Asimov began teaching at BU. He and his wife, Gertrude moved to the town of Newton, and had two children, David and Robyn. In his humor book, Asimov Laughs Again, he described driving in Boston as, "anarchy on wheels." By 1958, he was no longer teaching, instead writing full time, as his writing career earned far more than his school salary.

In 1970, Asimov and his wife separated, and Isaac returned to NYC, this time to the upper west side of Manhattan. They divorced in 1973, and three weeks later Isaac married Janet Jeppson, a fellow Sci-Fi writer and psychiatrist.

Asimov was afraid of flying, instead enjoying cruise ships around the world. He even gave fun science lessons aboard some ships. He was also a claustrophile, enjoying the feeling of small, enclosed spaces.
Asimov died after a long battle with heart disease and AIDS, which he contracted during a blood transfusion during heart surgery. His family waited over ten years to make the news public, because they were afraid of a backlash.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Legendary Heroes of America

American Fictional Legends:


Paul Bunyon - is an American myth, a giant and lumberjack (drevorubač) from the woods in the northern United States and Canada, who could cut down several trees with one blow of his axe (sekera). He would use his pet, Babe the Blue Ox (vôl), to help people, doing impossible chores (domáce práce), like making roads by dragging logs (ťahanie kmenov) through the forest. Some think the legend may come originally from Quebec, because "bon yenne!" is a French-Canadian expression of surprise.

American Historical Legends:


Daniel Boone (1734 – 1820) - He was an American pioneer (priekopník), most famous for his exploration and settlement (osada) of what is now Kentucky. He founded the village of Boonesborough, Kentucky, one of the first American settlements west of the Appalachians. Daniel Boone fought in the American Revolution, mostly against native Americans. He was captured (bol zajatý) by the Shawnee in 1778, who adopted him into their tribe (kmeň). Stories were published about him, starting in 1784 that made him famous in America and Europe.

Johnny Appleseed (1774 – 1845) - John Chapman, called Johnny Appleseed, was an American pioneer nurseryman (záhradník) and Christian missionary who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. He became an American legend in his own lifetime, due to his kind, and generous (štedrý) ways. His father also fought the British during the American Revolution.

Davy Crockett (1786-1836) - was an American folk hero, pioneer, soldier, and politician. He represented Tennessee in congress, and fought in the Texas Revolution, where he died in the Battle of the Alamo.

Buffalo Bill (1846-1917) - William Cody was a soldier, scout, bison hunter, and showman. He started working at the age of eleven after his father's death, and became a rider for the Pony Express at age 14. He served during the American Civil War. Later, he served as a civilian scout to the US Army during the Indian Wars, receiving the Medal of Honor in 1872. Buffalo Bill started performing in shows and founded his own, Buffalo Bill's Wild West, in 1883.

Annie Oakley (1860-1926) - She was a sharpshooter (ostrostrelec), performing in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. She was one of the first woman superstars in America.

Buffalo Bill with some of the members of his show.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sir Salman Rushdie - Biography

Salman Rushdie (born in 1947)

v     Salman Rushdie is a British-Indian novelist and essayist, famous for his writing about India and Pakistan, after their liberation from the British Empire, a period called post-colonialism.

v     Rushdie's style of writing has been called magic realism, a kind of story that asks what would realistically happen if one magical event took place. Some of his characters have special powers.

v     To date, Rushdie has written 9 novels, 3 short story collections, ten non-fiction works, and two children's books.

v     Rushdie is most famous for his novel The Satanic Verses, which angered Muslims so much that the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwā, calling for Rushdie's assassination (objednaná vražda). This happened in 1988. Salman Rushdie has been under police protection ever since.

v     Rushdie has written on many other topics, including Sandinista rebels, children's stories, and rock n' roll. the group U2 used some of his writing in their lyrics.

v     He won the Booker Prize in 1981 for his book Midnight's Children. It was made into a film in 2012.

v     His third novel, Shame, won  best foreign book in France, in 1983. He has won many awards since then.

v     In 1999 Rushdie was selected as Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France.

v     In 2007 he was knighted by the queen of England for his writing.

Personal Life:

Ahmed Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay, India (now Mumbai) to wealthy, Muslim parents. His father was a business man, educated in Cambridge, and his mother was a teacher. When Salman was old enough for secondary school, his parents sent him to boarding school in England, where he completed his education, finishing at the University of Cambridge.

Rushdie began his career in advertising, but his real interest was in literature, writing novels on the side. His first novel, Grimus, was mostly ignored, but his second, Midnight's Children, made him famous.

In 2000 Rushdie moved to America, where he lives and teaches at Emory University in Georgia, where he has deposited his literary archive.

The Satanic Verses

This novel is about two different actors from India, living in England. Gibreel Farishta is a schizophrenic Bollywood actor who typically plays the role of Hindu gods. Saladin Chamcha is a voice-over actor. Both are on a plane that is hijacked by terrorists and then explodes, but instead of dying, they miraculously transform - Gibreel into an angel, and Saladin into a devil.

Saladin is then arrested as a suspected illegal immigrant, and abused by police. Gibreel isn't, and begins dating an English woman, Allie Cone. Gibreel is angry at Saladin, for leaving him to this abuse - they both fell out of the plane together, so he ruins the new relationship, and Gibreel eventually kills Allie in a crazy, jealous rage. Saladin then goes home to India.
During all this, Gibreel has a number of dreams in which he travels back in time to the life of Muhammad, when he briefly supported the worship of the pagan goddesses Allāt, Uzza, and Manāt. These are called the Satanic Verses in the Quran.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Legend of King Arthur

King Arthur, painted in 1385

v     According to legend, King Arthur lived between the 5th and 6th centuries, and defended Britain against invading Anglo-Saxons, from mainland Europe. He may have been king of not just Britain, but Ireland, Iceland, Norway, and Gaul (France). No one knows if he really lived or not, or if he was king. It's debated by historians.

v     Arthur is mentioned in various medieval texts, including the poem Y Gododdin (6th century), Historia Brittonum (9th century), and Annales Cambriae (10th century).

v     In these tales, he wasn't called 'king', but was a Welsh hero, using magic and fighting monsters, similar to the hero Beowulf. He travelled to the Welsh 'otherworld', a place of magic called Annwyn.

v     Historia Brittonum tells of twelve battles in which Arthur fought. In the Battle of Mount Badon, Arthur single-handedly killed 960 men. Annales Cambriae tells of the Battle of Camlann where both Arthur and Mordred died.

v     But, Arthur isn't mentioned in any historical text from 400-800 AD, even ones that mention the battles of Mount Badon and Camlann.

v     In the legend, King Arthur is famous for his sword Excalibur, given to him by a mystical "Lady of the Lake".

v     He's also famous for his round table in his castle of Camelot, where his knights sat as equals, each allowed to vote.

v     King Arthur didn't become popular as a legend until the 12th century, when Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his Historia Regum Britanniae.

v     Another 12th century writer, Chrétien de Troyes, from France, added in Sir Lancelot, and a quest for the holy grail (svätý grál).

v     Stories of King Arthur were popular until the renaissance, and then became popular again in the 19th century. Today, the King Arthur legend has been adapted for theatre, film, TV, and comics.

Important Characters:

Uther Pendragon, by Howard Pyle

Uther Pendragon: King Arthur's father. Uther was a strong, heroic king, yet the way in which he defeated his enemy Gurlois makes him seem evil, if you think about it. He invaded the castle of Gurlois, killing him and his men. That same night, he used some potion from Merlin to trick Gurlois's wife, Igraine, to fall in love and sleep with Uther. That's how Arthur was born, Igraine was his mother. Uther and Igraine then married, but I imagine it was a very awkward wedding and marriage.

Merlin, by Howard Pyle

Merlin: a wizard and advisor to King Arthur. This character was invented by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Merlin was the son of an incubus (demon) who seduced (zviedol) a woman.

The Lady of the Lake, by Howard Pyle

Lady of the Lake: Different writers give her different names, such as Vivien, Elaine, and Nimue. She was ruler of the fictional island of Avalon. Merlin fell in love with her and taught her everything he knew about magic, knowing she would one day betray him.

The Beguiling of Merlin, by Edward Burne-Jones

Eventually, she trapped Merlin in a tree.

Merlin & Vivien, by Lancelot Speed

She helped Arthur, giving Excalibur when his first sword broke.

Guinevere, by John Collier

Guinevere: Arthur's wife. Her father, Leodegrance, was a knight who served Uther, and so the young Arthur helped save him from some enemy, and then married his daughter. Unfortunately, Guinevere fell in love with Arthur's knight...

Guinevere & Sir Lancelot, by Herbert James Draper

Sir Lancelot: When Arthur learned she was cheating on him, he ordered her burned alive. Lancelot rescued her, killing many knights to do it, and then ran away to France.

The Rescue of Guinevere, by William Hatherell

Guinevere & Sir Lancelot, by N.C. Wyeth

Arthur took an army to find and kill Lancelot, while...
Mordred: King Arthur's illegitimate son, and archenemy, decided to capture Guinevere for himself. He wanted to marry her and take the throne of Britain for himself. This is why Arthur had to come back and fight Mordred at the Battle of Camlann, where they both died.

Final Battle of King Arthur & Mordred, by N.C. Wyeth

King Arthur was then buried on the island of Avalon.

The Death of King Arthur, by John Garrick

Mordred's mother was Morgause, Arthur's half-sister.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. - Biography

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007)

ü      Kurt Vonnegut was an American writer and artist, famous for his combination of science fiction and dark humour.

ü      Vonnegut was a pacifist and supporter of the ACLU, and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association. He refused to pay taxes throughout the Vietnam War.

ü      His most famous books are Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions.

ü      Vonnegut taught English at Harvard and City College in New York.

ü      In 2011 his home town of Indianapolis opened the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. They also painted a large mural for him on Mass. Avenue.

ü      In 1999 an asteroid was named after him.

Personal Life:

Kurt was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. His parents were German-American. His father and grandfather were both architects, who graduated from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Kurt had a brother and sister. He and his brother both studied chemistry in university.

Kurt enlisted in the army during WWII, during which time his mother committed suicide with sleeping pills. He worked first as a scientist and engineer, but was transferred to combat, and was captured during the Battle of the Bulge. He was taken to a prison camp in Dresden, and made prison leader because he spoke some German. Kurt and some other POW's survived the bombing of Dresden because they'd been locked up in the basement meat locker of Schlachthof Fünf. Afterwards, he and the other POW's had to dig up all the dead German civilians and burn them with flame throwers, while survivors threw rocks at him. He was later liberated by the Russians, and won many military awards. This experience became the basis for many of his books, including. Slaughterhouse-Five, considered one of the best novels of the 20th century.

Following the war, Kurt married his childhood sweetheart, Jane Cox, and went to the University of Chicago to study anthropology, although he admitted he was a poor student. He worked in a variety of jobs, as a journalist, a technical writer for General Electric, and a volunteer fire fighter. He tried and failed to write a news article for Sports Illustrated, about a runaway horse. After sitting in front of his type writer all morning, he typed, "The horse jumped over the fucking fence," and quit. In 1957 he moved to Cape Cod.

Kurt's first novel, Cat's Cradle, published in 1963, was also his anthropology thesis, eventually earning him a master of arts in 1971. It became a best seller and encouraged him to keep going. He and Jane separated in 1970, and Kurt began living with photographer Jill Krementz. Kurt raised seven children. He and Jane had three. He adopted his sister's three children, after she died of cancer, and their father died in a train wreck. Later, he and Jill adopted a girl. He named his son after Mark Twain. Their daughter Lily is producer of a terrible animation series on Youtube called The Most Popular Girls In School. Kurt died after falling down a flight of stairs and hitting his head, age 84.

Kurt was critical of George Bush, saying, "The only difference between Hitler and Bush is that Hitler was elected." When others complained that his words were hurting the morale of soldiers, Kurt responded, "By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas."

Kurt once explained the difference between writing and drawing. "In a picture there may be 10 or 12 significant details. On a printed page there are 2,500 . . . If you make a mistake on a picture it's satisfying to wad it up and toss it out. When you have to do that with a written page, it's a more depressing failure."

Kurt also wrote the following rules for composing a short story, admitting that great writers often break them:

1.      Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2.      Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3.      Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4.      Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

5.      Start as close to the end as possible.

6.      Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7.      Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8.      Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Jack Kerouac - Biography

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

ü      Jack Kerouac was an American writer of the "beat generation". His work was a major inspiration for the hippie movement of the 1960's and 70's.

ü      You might think the term "beat generation" had to do with the music of the time, but according to Jack, it referred to poor people with few opportunities - people who feel, "beat to their socks."

ü      Jack was never comfortable as "king of the beat generation". He told an interviewer, "I'm not a beatnik, I'm a Catholic."

ü      He wrote about Christianity, Bhuddism, poverty, and sex, drugs, and rock n' roll.

ü      Jack is most famous today for his novel On The Road, an autobiographical work detailing his adventures, as he traveled across America and Mexico with his friend Neal Cassady. As Jack later explained, it was "really a story about two Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God."

ü      The story made him famous, almost over night, and eventually led to his downfall - he and his friend Neal were targeted by conservatives and police. Jack was badly beaten outside a bar, and Neal was arrested for marijuana possession. His following books were also attacked by critics.

ü      In 1959, Jack wrote and narrated a short, beat film, Pull My Daisy. It tells of a train brakeman and his wife, having dinner with a bishop, when his crazy friends arrive uninvited.

Personal Life:

Jean Louis Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. His parents were French Canadians, and he grew up speaking French. Jack had an older brother, Gerard, who died when he was nine (Jack was four) from a fever. Before dying, Gerard claimed to see the virgin Mary. Their mother mourned and went to church, making Jack a devout Catholic, while their father turned to alcohol and gambling.

In high school, Jack became a star football player, earning a scholarship to study at Columbia University, an ivy-league school. But, he dropped out after suffering a leg injury his sophomore year. While at Columbia, he made friends with the major figures of the beat generation: Allen Ginsbert, Neal Cassady, John Clellon Holmes, Herbert Huncke, and William S. Burroughs.

Next, Jack Became a sailor in 1942, and wrote his first novel, The Sea Is My Brother. He considered it a failure and didn't try to publish it. It was first published in 2011.

Jack's Navy photo

Jack then joined the US Navy in 1943, but he only served eight days before medical examiners determined he should be honorably discharged for psychiatric reasons. They said he had a schizoid personality. According to Jack, all he'd asked for was some aspirin.

Jack married twice around this time, first to his college girl friend, and then to Joan Haverty. Both marriages were short-lived. Joan divorced Jack in 1951, while pregnant with his daughter, Jan.

In 1950, Jack wrote On the Road, and spent a long time looking for a publisher. It was controversial for its detailed descriptions of drug use and homosexuality. He wrote the first draft in three weeks, and took another three weeks to type it up, with no chapter or paragraph breaks. The first draft contains many prayers and drawn crosses. A revised edition was eventually published in 1957.

 During this time, he began a job as a train brakesman, travelling from the east to west coasts, and meeting various homeless men, who would be big influences on "beat" authors. He spent the next decade travelling, writing, drinking, and experimenting with drugs.
Jack suffered a string of tragedies shortly before his death. First his sister died of a heart attack. His mother suffered a stroke shortly after. His friend Neal Cassady died in Mexico. And, a year lager, age 47 Jack died from internal bleeding, due to years of drug and alcohol abuse. The death of his mother soon after led to legal battles between Jan Kerouac and Jack's third wife Stella, over who deserved his money and copyrights.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Victorian Literature

Victorian literature was, in some ways, a continuation of romanticism. Pride in the individual, the importance of freedom and social mobility, love of nature and excitement in the supernatural (nadprirodzenosť) - writers have used these concepts all the way to the present.

There were three defining characteristics of the Victorian Age. First was optimism, coming from England's new industrial age, economic boom, scientific progress, and colonial expansion. People felt England was getting stronger and life was getting better, even considering the large numbers of poor people. New laws were made to help the poor, limiting child labour and creating a maximum number of work hours per week. So, there was a sense of hope and progress.

Second was Evangelicalism, a conservative movement calling for order, modesty and righteousness. Many people today consider Victorians to be prudes (cudný) because of their strong religious beliefs.

And, third was fear, stemming from changes that came toward the end of the Victorian age. These changes included socialism, a radical new political ideology that threatened the capitalist establishment in Europe, Russia, and even England, which witnessed a new Labour party, and the unionization of its workers. Also, Germany grew and consolidated power (upevnil moc), becoming a new threat to the British Empire.

Additionally, new advances in science threatened the dominance of organized religion. Geologist Sir Charles Lyell proved that the world was millions of years old, far older than suggested in the Bible. And, Charles Darwin put forth his theory of evolution through natural selection (prirodzený výber), a theory that linked all life on Earth together in a chain that also took millions of years to develop. Many viewed this as an attack on religion, and it's still controversial today in some places.

Novels and prose were the main mode of Victorian literature. Rather than describe the distant past, Victorian novels explored modern life and problems. Victorian literature saw the rise of popular fiction, with new genres like detective stories, horror and ghost stories, science fiction, fantasy, lost worlds, and children's stories. Plots were divided into episodes and sold in serials and newspapers. Writers could see how readers responded, and change their stories to better give fans what they wanted.

Victorian poets were strongly influenced by the romantics, but felt a strong social obligation, and wanted to address all the modern fears and problems mentioned above. Victorian poetry was a time of experimentation, with no real school or movement, except for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which had more to do with painting.

The Legend of Robin Hood

v     Robin Hood is a legendary folk hero, a thief who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. No one really knows anything about the real Robin Hood, or if he even existed.

v     We think he lived during the reign of King Richard the Lionhearted, somewhere between 1180 and 1280. He may have come from York Shire or Nottingham Shire, and lived in Sherwood Forest.

v     According to legend, Robin Hood was an outlaw, meaning a criminal who lived outside the law, and anyone could kill him legally. There were thousands of outlaws living in the woods at this time. They were also called wolf's heads because they had a price on their heads, just like a common wolf.

v     Legal documents talk of many men with similar names, like Robert Hode, and Robert, son of William LeFevre, who was called Robin Hood by the court. Robin Hood might be a nickname given to any unknown outlaw, similar to how we call dead men John Doe, when we don't know their real name.

v     The first literary references of Robin Hood come from ballads, which were medieval songs. They were written over a hundred years later.

v     Robin Hood was said to be from the Yeoman class, meaning a free farmer, not a serf who works like a slave for a king. The Yeomen were some of the earliest "middle class" in society. They were commonly warriors, and the best weapon for the forest was a longbow and arrow (luk and šip). This made them extremely important in war, because they were cheaper than knights. One knight with a war horse and expensive armor could cost as much as 30 Yeomen archers. Eventually, Yeomen changed the social structure of England, owning land without being royalty. They also would have loved the story of Robin Hood - a hero for them.

v     It's possible that, if Robin Hood existed, he might have fought in the crusades in Jerusalem.

v     A forest originally meant king's territory. He owned everything in it - the trees, and the animals. No one else could take from it, so kings used this as a way to control and make his people subservient. Any hunter who killed a deer in the king's forest was a poacher (pytliak).

v     Robin Hood was a poacher, and so were his friends, known as his "band of merry men".

Characters in the Story:

King Richard the Lionheart - He was the king of England from 1189-1199. He went on crusades in Jerusalem, fighting the famous Sulamein. He was a great military leader. He also owned a lot of land in France, and spoke French. He hated England, their weather, and their food. He even tried to sell London once, but couldn't find a buyer. He never stayed there long.

King John - King Richard's power hungry, younger brother. When Richard was kidnapped by Germans, John tried to pay the Germans to keep him, instead of freeing him. But his mother freed Richard. John became king when Richard died. He was a poor king, abusing the aristocracy, taking their money and women, and losing battles in France. His unpopularity caused the barons to rise up and write the Magna Carta, a contract that King John signed, and later broke his word on. It was his son, Henry III, who honoured the Magna Carta, limiting the King's powers..

The Sheriff of Nottingham - The representative of the king in Nottingham, he abused his power, oppressing the people, and putting innocent people in prison.

Maid Marian - Robin Hood's love interest. She's not part of the original legend, coming instead from a different series of stories about May Games, a celebration of spring. Originally, she was fat and vulgar, and liked Friar Tuck more than Robin. She became Robin's love as a way to show that Robin was chivalrous, that he knew how to treat a woman.

Little John - He is Robin's right-hand man, and second in command of the merry men. He fought with a staff, and was very large despite his name.

Friar Tuck - a member of the church who takes a vow of poverty, making him better than the richer monks and priests. He entered later into the legend.

Will Scarlet - originally Will Scathlock, he was a thief who breaks locks. Skilled with a sword, he was the comic relief of the group.

Alan-a-Dale - was a minstrel (a musician) who entered into the story much later. It was a way to honour all the minstrels who wrote the ballads of Robin in the first place. Alan enters the story when some aristocrat wants to take and marry Alan's love, and Robin helps him.

Stories of Robin Hood

1. In the story Robin Hood & the Monk, Robin went to a church and was recognized by a monk whom he had robbed in the woods. Robin was captured, after killing twelve soldiers, and was left in an oubliette, a bottle-shaped prison dug underground, and left to die. But, his merry men come and save him. Afterwards, Robin is ashamed and tells Little John he can be the new leader of the group, but Little John refuses.
2. The Gest of Robyn Hode was a history of the man, written in 1492. According to the stories, King Richard the Lionheart was a good king, but always away fighting. When he came back to England, and discovered what was happening between Robin and the Sheriff of Nottingham, he always sided with Robin. Whether that's true is unknown.

Monday, March 2, 2015

John Updike - Biography

John Updike (1932-2009)

v     John Updike was a writer, poet, and critic. He wrote over twenty novels, twelve short story collections, and eight volumes of poetry.

v     Updike wrote mostly about middle-class people from small towns, and the problems they faced - crises of religion, family, and infidelity.

v      Updike is most famous for his series of five novels about the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, from his adolescence all the way to his old age and death.

v     Both Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit At Rest won the Pulitzer Prize.

v     Updike also won a national book award for Rabbit is Rich and the novel Centaur.

v     Other awards include three National Book Critics Circle awards, a National Medal of Arts and a National Humanities Medal. He also appeared twice on the cover of Time Magazine.

Personal Life:

John grew up in Shilington, a small town in Pennsylvania. His mother was a writer, although not so successful. He was a brilliant student. He was class valedictorian and class president, and went to Harvard with a full scholarship. He graduated summa cum laude and was also president of the Harvard Lampoon, a humour magazine. John also married while at Harvard, to Mary Pennington, an art student. The young couple then went to Oxford, to The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, where John studied cartooning.

Upon graduation, he moved to New York and began writing and drawing for the New Yorker magazine. In the 60's Updike and his family moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, but he continued writing for the New Yorker.

In 1974 John and Mary divorced. Three years later, John married Martha Bernhard, who he stayed with to the end of his life. As Updike grew older, he began to experiment more as a writer, composing historical fiction and even a sci-fi novel, Toward The End Of Time. In 2006, he wrote the novel Terrorist, about a young Muslim extremist living in New Jersey. John died of lung cancer in 2009, age 76.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

v     Written in 1852 by Harriet Beecher Stowe, this book is cited as one contributing factor in the American Civil War over slavery.

v     Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best selling novel of the 19th century, and the 2nd best selling book after the Bible.

v     Today the book is still controversial for a number of stereotypes it contains:

                        1. the kind-hearted "mammy"

                        2. the loyal and dutiful "Uncle Tom"

                        3. and "pickaninny" children, coming from the Portuguese word, 'pequenino' meaning
                            little one. It's a stereotype for silly, young black children who feel no pain.

Little Eva & Topsy

v     The major theme of the book is that strong Christian faith can conquer all the evils of the world, including slavery.

Cast of Characters:

Arthur Shelby - a Kentucky farmer and slave holder, who is in trouble with debts.
Emily Shelby - Arthur's wife.
George Shelby - Arthur's son. He loves Uncle Tom, and thinks of him as a mentor.
Uncle Tom - a great man, even though he's a slave.
Eliza - A slave, and maid for the Shelby family.
George Harris - Eliza's husband, an escaped slave.
Loker - a slave hunter.
Augustine St. Clare - a wealthy man from New Orleans.
Simon Legree - a plantation owner, and a horrible man.


1. This story begins with a slaveholding family named the Shelby's who own Tom and a number of other slaves. To pay off their debts they plan to sell two slaves: Uncle Tom, and Harry, the only surviving son of Eliza. When Eliza hears this, She takes her son and runs away to the north, leaving a note of apology to Emily Shelby.

2. Eliza finds her husband George, also an escaped slave, and they decide to run for Canada. They are hunted and trapped by a slave hunter named Loker, whom George pushes down a cliff. Rather than leave him to die, they choose to take Loker to a doctor in a Quaker village (Quakers are a kind of Christian who believe in equality and freedom for all). Loker quits his job and changes his life.

3. Tom is sold and put on a ferry boat going south. While on the boat, he befriends a little white girl named Eva, and her father, Augustine St. Clare, seeing the goodness in Uncle Tom, buys him, and takes him to his home in New Orleans.

Little Eva & Uncle Tom, by Edwin Longsden Long

4. After two years in New Orleans, little Eva gets very sick. Before she dies, she sees a vision of heaven. After, her father promises to set Uncle Tom free. But, before he can do that, he's stabbed and killed outside a local bar, and his wife sells Tom to a horrible plantation, owned by Simon Legree.

5. Simon Legree orders Tom to whip the other slaves, and when Tom refuses, he's beaten horribly. Tom can read the Bible and does so for the other slaves, which angers Legree. He doesn't want his slaves reading, or having any faith or hope in God.

6. Tom has two visions while at the plantation, of Jesus and of Eva as an angel. So, Tom helps two slaves, Cassy & Emmaline, escape. Refusing to tell Legree where they've gone, Legree orders that Tom be beaten to death. He forgives them as they kill him.

7. Just as Tom dies, he sees young George Shelby, who has come all the way from Kentucky to find Tom and buy him back. But, he's too late. Heart broken, George returns to his farm and frees all his slaves.

8. Cassie and Emmaline make their way to Canada where they find Eliza and her family. It turns out that Eliza is Cassie's long lost daughter, and their family is reunited again. They all move to Liberia, Africa.