Monday, July 12, 2010


I have a good English teacher this year. I especially enjoyed our study in Term 1 of Danse Macabre! This can be translated to mean the Dance of Death. The rules of horror fiction are to drop subtle clues to the horror throughout the story, and not all at once, to add the supernatural and to give the ending a twist.

We started with Edgar Allen Poe and his poem 'The Raven'. We analyzed it and translated it into modern English, then Twitter posts, verse by verse. It is the longest poem!

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more,'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of "Never-nevermore."'

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!

A small group of us took Stanza 12 and made it into a tweet:
"Have decided to pull up a chair; am now wondering what a raven would mean by 'nevermore.' "
As in introduction we all had to research about the Yiddish Golem (magically created beings that grow rapidly and gain strength with each passing day) and gargoyles (grotesque sculptures used in fountains or to scare away evil spirits).

We studied the story of 'The Monkey's Paw', which chilled us all to the bone. A discarded severed monkey paw is rescued by a man with a wife and grown up son. His friend tells him to burn the talisman, that there are associated stories that it will grant three wishes to three people, and that the first user's third wish was for death, which occurred, and so the paw was given to this man. The family is quite skeptical of the paw's powers, but wish for just enough money to help them pay the mortgage. The monkey's paw shakes and frightens them all but nothing happens so they leave it on a shelf.
One day the housebound wife and son are interrupted by a knock at the door. The visitor breaks the news that their father and husband was mangled in machinery at work and the body ripped to shreds. As consolation he gave them some money - the exact amount they had wished for.
Stricken with grief, the wife uses the second wish to bring the husband back from the dead. She can't see sense and is too desperate for him back, so makes the wish. A loud knock at the door rattles the house and the son is suddenly terrified for his innocent mother who expects her husband at the door in one piece. Knowing better, that just a corpse will greet them, the son protests. With the knocking increasing, the mother runs to unlock the door. In the few seconds she fumbles with the bolt, the son ha enough time to utter the third wish. The front door opens and the mother screams in anguish, for whatever was knocking at the door has vanished.

We read the story as a class and watched both the old version and the adapted modern version over the internet. Then we listened to the radio play of the story, from the olden days.
Here is the modern version from Youtube:

Roald Dahl's 'The Ratcatcher' story was read to us too, and we looked at how the suspense was built.

A master of suspense, we watched some of Alfred Hitchcock's films, like 'The Rope', and enjoyed the tension of a dinner party hosted by the murderers, being eaten off a chest containing the body, and the slow, tantalizing realization on who the murderers were (and in fact, that there was a murder at all) from a suspicious close friend.

Flash fiction horrors were really hard for me to write because of the word limit, but here are the unedited drafts of stories I wrote:

"My muscles groaned in protest as I lowered my son and I deeper into a black hole of nothingness; the mine I worked in to provide income.
It was evening outside. My flickering torch was all the light we'd get.
We passed figures painted on the mine walls on the way down. Painted in animal blood, from ancient times. The figures depicted a series of events involving bloodthirsty goblins and women being murdered in cold blood while warriors fought in vain.
The drawings seemed to come alive. I could hear the cries of the dying, could feel my hair rising. Nicholas shuddered. We both heard the cry of scavenging ravens.
One sketch of a witch frightened even me. Her teeth pulled back, leering; I gazed into her cold eyes and saw them wink at me.
At once we heard her cackle. I noticed a shadow climbing up the wall from the bottom. I felt Nicholas freeze and whimper. Fumbling with the ropes, I jerked on the one that would take us up, away from the horror reaching for the platform. I jerked too hard. Nicholas toppled off.
He and the witch fell to the bottom and I? I sat and sobbed."

"At 16, Caroline was on top of the world. She had good grades and eagerly anticipated the future. The icing on the cake was a new job as apprentice chef over the summer holidays. The call had come, and the raspy chef's voice had congratulated her and officially employed her.
All this ran through her mind as Caroline got off the bus at the door to the restaurant she was to work in.
She entered the kitchen at the back of the restaurant and was greeted formally by Head Chef. She was taken on a tour of the kitchen and put to work on a bench top down the window side.
Time passed quickly. From time to time work got busy.
The cooks had temporarily disappeared when Caroline got back from the rubbish skit outside. The jug, however was boiling and the mirror above the stove had steamed up.
Caroline gasped in horror at the word that an unknown finger had traced in the foggy glass, for her. Racing over, she saw that it read: 'I'm watching! ...'"

Requirements: onomatopoeia, old people, cave setting.
"I woke to the sound of splashing, of sploshing, not unlike the leaky tap at home. I knew I couldn't be at home - my back ached and my toes were numb.
Easing myself up I looked around; peered into the shadows of the cave I found myself in. It was a deep one. Outside the light was glaring, but, as I squinted, a hunched shadow obscured the light. My eyes didn't adjust very well now, and I couldn't see my kidnapper clearly.
I did, however, see the hunting knife he held, and a sharp intake of air made him look over. His eyes were all I could see. The penetrating orbs squinted and I felt a pang of familiarity, then it was gone. Fear took hold as he moved slowly forward, taking little cautious steps. His shaking hand holding the knife, I knew my life was about to end. I prized the weapon out of his childlike grip and delivered a blow. At once, I knew I'd killed him.
Flap flap flap. I spun around and spied a grotesque cave bat. Was that what my perpetrator had been aiming for? Something occurred to me, that my husband had always been deathly afraid of bats. I gasped and dragged the corpse into the light, sweat making me all clammy and frightened.
I turned the aged body over, took his wrinkled old hands in my own, ancient, veiny ones and sobbed. It was Ernie, my husband."

Collaborated Horror, My Piece:
"There was a loud noise and I spun around, my heart hammering, my hands sweating. Sweeping my eyes around the room, I cast them upon the Victorian doorway of the house I was robbing. I swallowed nervously and turned back around slowly..."

"At two in the morning, the Cobbleton Train Station was completely deserted, all except one lone, solitary black figure waiting motionlessly at the end of the platform.
By day the station was a busy, crowded place, small children clinging desperately to their parents, buffeted by the moving mobs of hurrying businessmen, women traveling to the markets, and fat men in sandwich boards pacing the platform and calling out their ware.
By night, the echoes of bawling babies and frantic fathers reverberated off the walls of the station, fell into the tracks and resounded much further down the line of sleepers and rails, pinging quietly into the distance, at last being swallowed by the entrance to the Minsoonian Tunnel, which was, at this time of day, one, big, black nostril to the noisy dragon that rumbled and stirred every hour.
The silence wafted over the station as it met a rolling fog from the east. The two forces intertwined and became one silent, chilling mass that froze the patient passenger to his very core. He shivered and pulled his coat tighter around his freezing body, and the fog moved on..."

Horrors with a surprise ending were our next focus, and our big assessment was to write a horror story with a twist, purely our own, which was fun for me. The night before our first draft was due I sat with no ideas, but started to write anyway, and following three edits, I handed in Digging For Truth.

"Gilroy and I had a week left on the gold mine when our luck started to change, for the worst. The two of us had met in the tavern a month previously, but now it was our last Wednesday at the diggings. We were sitting in Gil’s tent as our dinners were boiling away and between us were my meagre riches. Truth be told, I hadn’t been too fortunate, but neither had Gil, which made me feel a little more appreciative.

It was probably our lack of gold that invoked us to search further afield the following day. We trekked down to the river and walked parallel to it for about ten minutes, both of us seeking an unpopulated space. We passed clusters of miners on the way, these of which grew more and more scarce as we progressed. One balding man advised us not to carry on alone, for had we not heard of Alistair’s disappearance around the area in the early hours of the morn. We hadn’t. As if to further his point, the bachelor described a haunted part of the river bank, a little way up, beyond the rapids. Gil and I looked at each other, and at once it was decided we’d try there anyway.

And so we moved on, and arrived at the rapids, which we cautiously crossed. We found ourselves at the entrance to a shallow cave, underneath a chalky, clay outcrop. I peered in and around, but no-one seemed to be present. Hands shoved in pockets, we sauntered in, stooped to half our heights, but there actually wasn’t a lot in the cave, so I turned to climb out again when my eye caught gold, shiny gold, and masses of it, wedged behind a rock.

“Gil!” I exclaimed, but I didn’t need to say anything more. In wonder we wistfully lusted for it, but, on hearing my good Christian mother’s disapproval in my mind, I backtracked and stepped back out into the glaring morning sunlight.

Gilroy’s intake of breath made me glance around, and frozen, we were able to hear a rustling in the forest behind us. Wide-eyed, I motioned for Gil to follow me back across the river and into the bushes there, where we lay in wait, our hearts pounding.

Sure enough, a few seconds later, we watched a figure approach the cave, lugging an obviously heavy mass; my eyes confirmed it was a body, and I muffled a gasp, concentrating, instead, on normalizing my heart rate, which was twice its normal speed.

For a long moment, I thought the man had heard me, because he looked around him for quite a while before dragging the body into the cave.

Gil and I breathed quietly for a while, then slowly got up and retreated. Thudding and scraping noises were coming from the cave, and I shuddered at the thought of what might be happening in there. Yet the thought of what weapons the murderer might have hidden in his lair drove me faster up the bank to the road.

Safely, a little while later, we discussed all we had seen. Gil somberly urged the two of us to go back and find out more, but I was in two minds. My train of thought was broken, however, when a familiar voice called us outside.

My tent neighbour, Arthur, told us gravely that another man had gone missing from the same track and no-one was advised to travel home alone, nor at night, anymore.

Upon this news, Gil and I retrieved our hidden pistols, merely for self defence, and, shoving them in our belts, we sprinted down the track to the gully. We slowed as we neared the rapids, but couldn’t hear any unnatural sounds, so peeped into the cave to check that the interior was all clear - and indeed it was. Puzzled, we set off into the forest…

... I bumped into Gil who’d stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of a human leg tucked under the shrubs. It was fresh, and my hand shot to my mouth. Grimly, Gil grabbed my arm and pulled me in deeper, both of us wary.

It was I who had the disadvantage of discovering the arm in the hollow of a tree, pale and pointing deeper into the forest, and it was Gil who spotted the torso of a headless man behind a rock. I whimpered at the gory viewing.

“If this was a trail,” I reasoned, “then the murderer…”

“Bert!!” cried Gil. I was too late to hear the warning in his cry until I spun around, pulling out the pistol as I did so, and noticed a silhouette in the sunlight that I ignorantly hadn’t seen before.

Our quarry, if we weren’t his, I realised with a jolt, sat poised on a stuffed piece of sacking, in what would appear to be a relaxed pose, if it weren’t for the little black pistol in his hand, cocked, and pointing at Gil.

“Well done for completing me treasure hunt,” the older man said. Gil made a small noise of surprise, but the man continued,

“I s’pose you’d like the loot?” On seeing our confusion, he incredulously remarked, “You didn’t think I’d forget to take the gold off me victims, did you??”

Holding his pistol, he singlehandedly reached underneath him and produced the sack, which he handed to me. It was heavy. My heart leapt into my mouth. Gold! I dropped my gun hand to peer inside the sack, the contents causing me to shout, for inside the sack was a severed head, and my eyes widened, glued to the horror in the sack. I gulped.

As my attention had been distracted, the man had raised his weapon at me, and Gil, with a bellow, had launched himself between us, his pistol pointing back at the man. I looked up in shock and a cloud passed over the sun.

On the main road, a lone miner on his way home glanced up to see the sun covered by a cloud. Then a single gunshot brought him back to reality and he galloped his horse away, fear in his heart."

This piece of creative writing scored me a 6+ and a 7-, if I can remember correctly. Take a look at the marking system we use on, in the navigator blog. All assessments so far in English this year have been 6 - 7s! The above Digging For Truth got me an Excellence.

The main study in Danse Macabre was on the book Skeleton Creek, which I enjoyed a lot. The chapters go hand in hand with a website, the book being Ryan's journal and the website (with passwords inside the book for access) of video diaries, being Sarah's. Despite their parents forbidding the two to be together after a serious accident that happened with Ryan, through emails and technology (and Sarah digging around the town for answers) they uncover the mystery of their spooky town, Skeleton Creek. Strange things go on deep in the forest and Sarah eventually helps bedridden Ryan to sneak out when she thinks she has the information she needs, out at night to the woods. They make it all seem rather dramatic, so Sarah wires her video camera up so that all that happens is recorded, just in case. The story leaves you at the crucial points with a password which must be entered on to find out more. Though there is a sequel I have not yet read, the first book ends with the last video showing a phantom locking Ryan and Sarah in a haunted house on their night out.

For quicker buffering I watched the videos via Youtube. We all love the second one:

We have two assessments per unit this year, although I think that our first essay was quite unrelated. Given a few choices of what to write about, I chose to do the one about e-learning in schools! It was, afterall, something I knew lots about and had some ideas and opinions on. Year 9 students at our school (starting only THIS year!) may bring a laptop to school and take some sort of class to support digital learning. It all started this year, and things really are changing. The essay I wrote at the beginning of the year also got me Excellence.

We have just completed our second unit for the term, called Wrong Side Of The Tracks, all about teenage crime and those who fall off the rails with modern day negative stereotypes against them. We looked at short stories 'The Last Spin' and 'On The Sidewalk Bleeding' which were disturbing! In 'The Last Spin', opposing gang members Danny and Tigo have agreed for their gangs to play Russian Roulettes with the kind of gun that had a bullet in one of six compartments. In turn they shot themselves in the head, all the while talking and coming to realize how stupid they were being. They discovered they were quite similar, and both had girlfriends which they agreed to double date with the following weekend. Wanting nothing but friendship they decided to just stop playing after the next shot each, which had had more bullets put in since. Danny took the last spin but this time it was fatal and it destroyed Danny; destroyed Tigo emotionally too.

'On the Sidewalk Bleeding' is written through the thoughts of gang member Andy, who had just been stabbed by a rival and was dying unaware of this. He thought of his girlfriend Laura at the party they had just been at and missed her more than anything. Calling to a drunk man he mustered all his strength, but the man thought drunkenly that he was sleeping. He called to an old lady, but she was deaf and didn't hear. Finally, he was found by a member and their girlfriend of another rival gang, but the boy preferred not to risk his status in the gang by helping out a rival gang member. Rival in New York, fellow in the human race; Andy died, but a second previously just managed to free himself of his fancy jacket, throwing it a little away. He'd wanted to die Andy, not a 'Royal'.

When the police and Laura found Andy, the policeman started to take notes. 'A Royal' he wrote, despite Laura insisting that he was Andy.

The stories conjured up so many lessons about stereotypes and not judging people by looks. We compared the stories and compared the characters, and apart from being written by the same author, the stories and the messages are very similar indeed. A comparative essay was our assessment; I got Excellence.

It introduced us well into our novel study, 'The Outsiders' by S.E Hinton. Having heard it praised immensely last year by my English teacher then, I read it a few weeks before this, out of curiosity. I skimmed it while my class read it and were moved too. It is a strongly recommended book and I back this up. Ponyboy is the dreamiest member of a Greaser gang, who make up the lower-class society and are rivals of the upper-class Socs. He is also the younger brother of Soda and Darry, but they mean he's in the gang at a mere 14 years of age. The seven boys are like family, especially as Darry, Soda and Pony are orphans and timid Johnny is abused at home. At the Drive In one night, Johnny and Pony meet some lovely Soc girls and become friends. Life goes on, but Pony is not happy at home. 20 year old Darry struggles with two jobs and being a solo parent to his brothers, and takes it out on Pony. Trouble starts when he slaps Pony in a rage and Pony grabs Johnny to run away with him. They get chased by a Soc gang though, and to save Pony who is being drowned in the park's fountain by a Soc, Johnny murders a Soc. Everyone flees, Johnny and Pony to rough friend Dally, who provides them with an escape route to the country. They take it and stowaway on the train to the countryside, which changes the boys, and makes them realize what more there is to life than the violence they've grown up in. They stay in a church, which on their return one day is on fire with a few kids playing inside. They become newspaper heroes because they save the children but Johnny is still badly hurt when Pony is released from hospital.

Meanwhile the Socs and Greasers have been organizing a huge rumble that Johnny won't be able to make, but is holding on to life in order to know if Greasers will gain the respect of the Socs. Ponyboy fights, as do all the Greasers; they wind up with a victory. Dally rushes Pony to the hospital to tell Johnny. They get escorted by police because they pretend that Pony's blood nose is their reason for speeding towards the hospital. Pony tells Johnny the good news and he is pleased but so near death. When he breathes his final breath, tough unemotional Dally is overcome with grief and runs off to burgle a shop. Pony goes into shock and more so when Dally calls the gang up to help him hide from the police. They arrive to see Dally pull out a fake gun he told them about earlier and try to defend himself against the cops. The police shoot ... and the gang loses their second friend to suicide, because it had all been planned.

Ponyboy writes the very story when the book ends with him starting his homework assignment, and trying to commemorate Johnny Cade.

Again I wrote an essay on 'The Outsiders' and described the recurring theme of the countryside. I discovered a them of gold, a colour connotated with heaven or purity, and wrote about all the times this theme appeared, then identifying how the author emphasized the theme in those fragments of text. I got Excellence!

Speeches were to come next but half the class voted for speeches and half to watch and analyze the movie 'Grease'. In the end, as preparation for our upcoming speech assessments, our teacher mixed the two topics and we're doing a new kind of assessment. In threes we are researching an issue that we then branch into three fields. We give individual speeches on this. My group is looking at Religion. More specifically, media's influence into religion and religious oppression; I am covering the whole subject of cults, religious diversity and the freedom of certain religions. It's the holidays and I should be writing my speech for next term!

- Luckily our presentation went very well, as did my speech, and I received back a 6-!

A couple of weeks ago we watched the documentary 'Growing Up Online' which was quite interesting and all about the overuse of computers by teenagers. Then we saw 'A Class Divided' about a third grade teacher, who, in order to teach the children about racism, split the blue-eyed children and the brown-eyed children into upper and lower class citizens for the day, then swapped them the next day. Half the class was not allowed to play on the playground, had to wear a collar around their necks, missed out on some recess and were treated unfairly. A couple of decades on, the documentary filmed their reunion as adults and they all discussed how that lesson had stuck with them. This lady tried her experiment on a couple of groups of adults after this to teach the same lesson. She's tried it with kids and adults, and my class was divided as to whether it was a worthy method or not. I'm still undecided!

Three credits were recently offered to Year 10 English students for a research task and essay report. I am a little ashamed to say I procrastinated too much and am waiting for my Not Achieved. Fortunately, if I do a little these holidays, I'll be ready for the re-submisson and I'll redeem myself here too. I don't normally work like this, but I hope I can pull away with the credits within a couple more weeks.

At the same time we worked in groups to write individual poems and put them in an anthology. I'm ecstatic that we got our Excellence. Here is my poem (which had to be related to a culture of some sort and identified with my group's anthology because of the 'summer' theme). Click on the poem and have a read.

Aside from that, the Year 10 English Exam will soon be coming and I will hopefully do well. After the exam has passed, we won't have very much left to study at all, and I'll become a Year 11 English student!

No comments: