Monster of the Week

Vengeful ghosts, entities called upon for justice, the raising of the dead to right a wrong. The name for such monsters is a revenant. I have heard the term before, but had never really filed it away as an entity of vengeance, especially considering the 2015 film Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio (even though revenge is a major theme).

Revenants have been used in fiction for centuries but have been called other names: vampire, ghost, zombie, banshee, etc. Even Shakespeare used the revenant concept in his tragedies Hamlet (the ghost of Hamlet’s father) and Macbeth (the ghosts of Banquo and King Duncan).

Revenants, however, have traditionally been reanimated corpses seeking vengeance by feeding on the living. Many are the “wicked” who come back to terrorize the village, yet some are innocent people who were killed by someone evil. Fans of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane may recognize these elements in his story “Skulls in the Stars.” Howard’s character often faced some sort of undead antagonist, and many of the Kane stories can be found in the public domain.

Vampires are an interesting concept for a revenant simply because revenge is a rare setup for the vampire story/novel. Stephen King’s “Popsy” does have a vengeful vampire, but that’s not why the vampire existed. Perhaps Dracula could be considered a revenant if one were to go by the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Gary Oldman, Winona Rider, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves. Here, Dracula claims he will avenge the suicide of his beloved wife after some priest lie to her about his death in battle. He then curses God, stabs the crucifix, and drinks the blood that issues forth. This turns him into the blood-drinking fiend we all know and love. In this instance, he would be considered a revenant. In a lot cases, the vampire is simply a case of misfortune as one can find in Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire.

I personally wouldn’t consider the pop culture Walking Dead zombie a revenant, but there are some that do fit the category. One story that come to mind is from the Creepshow movie. One of the stories, “Something to Tide You Over,” details the murder of a couple who come back from the dead for revenge and have the gruesome zombie appearance. Another episode from Creepshow 2 also has a revenant in the form of “The Hitch-hiker.” The X-Files has many episodes of the dead coming back to punish the living, and one episode is even named “Revenant.”

In the end, the most common form is the vengeful ghost. Countless folklore, myths, and stories have the vengeful ghost. Ju-on/The Grudge as well as Ringu/The Ring and many other Japanese horror film use this motif–not to mention Poltergeist, The Fog, and Thirteen Ghosts. La Llorona and Bloody Mary have their place here as well. A multitude of vengeful spirits have become a part of world culture, which make sense. Revenge, death, and the afterlife play deep roles within the psyche of humanity. A creature that exemplifies all three would be a popular creature. So, next time you look in the mirror and utter “Bloody Mary” three times, remember: vengeance is on Mary’s mind, and she doesn’t care who she takes it out on.

Diverse Literature Part 2

My first post on this topic listed a few of the many Indigenous novel/books available to the public. The ones I choose focused specifically on North American indigenous peoples, but a wide range of novels also deal with South American tribal nations, Caribbean Natives, and Australian aborigine peoples. I encourage readers of literature to seek out those novels if interested in native peoples from around the globe.

Today, I would like to focus on African American Young Adult novels. Fortunately, this area of literature has not only grown over the last two decades but has thrived. Many have become classics of the genre, not just within African-American literature, but within literature as a whole. So many have made an impact on young lives that it will be difficult to choose just a few. Nevertheless, I will attempt to pull from a variety of times, both in setting and in publication.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

When I first began teaching language arts to middle schoolers, one of the first stories we read was call “A Song of Trees” by Mildred D. Taylor. Told from the point of view of Cassie Logan and set in the South during the 1930s, it detailed the illegal harvesting of lumber on the Logan family property. The Logans were the only black family to own land, so the whites sought to take advantage. As a result of the at excellent story, I soon found Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. This is the first novel about the Logan family reveals the hardships of not only the Logans, but other black sharecroppers who didn’t have the advantage of land ownership. Racism and discrimination plays a major role, but so does education. Although the novel was the first to be written Ms. Taylor went on to do three prequels as well as a sequel. I highly recommend it to all young readers.

Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper

Another award-winning novel, but this one is set in the era of slavery. It tells the story of Amari, a fifteen-year-old African girl, living in the village of Ziavi, which is attacked by slave traders. She is taken captive and sold. Amari’s journey from her small village to a plantation in the Carolinas is terrible and heartbreaking, yet realistic. The story pulls no punches about the cruelty of slavery. As with any great book, it is filled with characters you love and root for and heinous characters you hope get theirs in the end. This a powerful novel worth the time to read.

Interesting side note: Ms. Draper is the granddaughter of a former slave, which makes this novel all the more impactful.

The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers

Reminiscent of Alex Haley’s masterpiece Roots, The Glory Field follows the Lewis family from 1700s slavery to the 1990s. It follow six members of the family starting with Muhammad Bilal, who was kidnapped and enslaved and ending with Malcolm Lewis in 1994. Readers traverse through the decades and meet a new family member in many of the pivotal eras for the African Americans (e.g 1860s, 1930s, 1960s, etc.). The common thread is the land worked and ultimately inherited by the Lewis family. We are witness to the discrimination, prejudice, and racism planted from the early days of slavery. However, we also read about the power of family, hope, and perseverance. Although the stories are incredibly sad, the endurance of the human spirit shines through.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Jayson Reynolds is an amazing writer, plain and simple. I read this one on my Kindle and was told by one of my students to scroll down for the novel as opposed to going page by page. It made the reading experience so much more interesting. Long Way Down is a narrative prose poem about Will Holloman riding an elevator down from the 8th floor as he decides whether or not he will exact vengeance on the young man who killed his brother Shawn. The kicker is that during the 60+ second ride down, he is met at each floor by someone who has been killed by the same type of violence. Beautiful, thoughtful, heart-rending, this novel will leave a lasting impact on all those who read it.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Another novel by Jason Reynolds who co-wrote it with Brendan Kiely, and another phenomenal read. This one has two points of view, one from a young black man and the other from a young white man. This one is quite fortuitous to our modern environment in its plot and characters. As with many of these books dealing with race in America, it is powerful and tragic. The plot focuses on two characters, Rashad and Quinn. Rashad has been unfairly targeted and horribly beaten by a cop named Paul. Quinn, who witnessed the event, has a significant connection to Paul. To complicate matters, the beating is also caught on video and brought to the public. Dividing lines are drawn and the conflict grows to become national. Written in 2014-15, the themes resonate very loudly today.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

When I heard, read about, and watched the shooting of Tamir Rice, it galvanized me to teach more African American literature while I was teaching language arts. Now, as an American History teacher, I focus on the impact slavery had on the nation. Although this book was written well after I left language arts, I was fortunate enough to have a teacher recommend it to me.

The main character is twelve-year-old Jerome was shot and killed by police who mistook his toy gun for a real one. As a ghost, Jerome witnesses the terrible toll his death has on his family and community. He is later joined by Emmett Till, who helps Jerome on his path. Together, they explore how Jerome’s death can be attributed the deep-seated racism that was presence during Emmett’s time and further back. Again, timely and eye-opening, this a book that will go on to be a modern classic.

So many incredible novels could have been added to this list. I wish I could shine a spotlight on each one. Below, I’ve added a few more for your edification.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. A modern classic that has a received a large and deserved audience. Another book ahead of its time and reflects the current environment.

The Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor. Outside the typical real world literature, this is a sci-fi novel, which is a wonderful and exciting read.

Dread Nation series by Justina Ireland. I discovered this first through Audible, but a second in the series has been written. Part alternate history and part horror-fantasy-zombie novel, this takes place in the 1860s with a young African-American female protagonist.