Posted in ELA, English, Spelling

Chapter 51: Dunderheads

I’m an English teacher and an old copy editor. If I taught at Hogwarts, my Boggart — a shapeshifter that assumes the form of your deepest fear — would probably look a whole lot like a typo.

With that in mind, here is the email I received a couple of weeks ago:

 

As Professor Lupin would say: Riddikulus.

In case you’re wondering, this was a scam.

I think I know who sent the email, though:

Dunderheads.

On the up side, this will make a great basis for a mini-lesson on why spelling is important. Thanks for the teachable moment, suckers.

Emily

 

 

 

Posted in Dr. Seuss, ELA, English, Literature, Whimsy

Chapter 50: All the Whos Down in … Heorot?

OMGOMGOMGOMG.

You guys.

You. GUYS.

I have no idea how I missed this for 44 consecutive years, but as I was working on lesson plans for my children’s-lit students — who presented How the Grinch Stole Christmas to the K-2 students during a special holiday story hour last month in lieu of a traditional final exam — I noticed something that delighted my little English-teacher heart:

The Grinch is basically Grendel.

I don’t mean the Dr. Seuss children’s classic is a completely faithful retelling of Beowulf, because it is not. But it bears a striking resemblance to the first part of Beowulf, in the same way that Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory resembles Dante’s Inferno, and The Lion King resembles Hamlet.

Check it out:

In the Anglo-Saxon epic, King Hrothgar builds a big mead hall called Heorot, where he and his subjects feast, sing, and party like rock stars every night, inciting the rage of the monster who lives in a nearby cave.

In the Seussian epic, (OK, maybe not quite an epic, but by picture-book standards … look, just go with it) the Whos down in Who-ville feast, sing, and party every Christmas, inciting the rage of the monster who lives in a nearby cave.

In both stories, the monsters decide to solve their problems by breaking and entering with the intent of committing further crimes.

The poems diverge after this point — the Grinch sticks to larceny in his attempt to quiet his raucous neighbors, while Grendel goes for homicide and cannibalism — but the premises are too similar for me to believe they’re a coincidence.

After all, Dr. Seuss employed iambic tetrameter in Green Eggs and Ham (Sam-I-Am is a pun, as I explain here), so why wouldn’t he draw inspiration from Beowulf?

I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t notice this last year, when my seniors were having so much fun delving into John Gardner’s Grendel. I’d love to hear them debate whether the Grinch is a nihilist or an existentialist.

Emily

Posted in Collaborative learning, ELA, English, Literature, Writing assignments

Chapter 37: Texting with Antigone

About 11 years ago, I worked with a young teacher at an interest-based digital-media magnet school who was struggling to get her sophomores to write. At the time, I oversaw part of the magnet program, and I nudged her to think in terms of our school’s theme.

To that end, I asked her one question: “Do the kids text?”

Of course they did, she said. All the time. It was driving her nuts; we were supposed to confiscate their phones if they used them in class, and for a while, that seemed to be all we did all day.
Continue reading “Chapter 37: Texting with Antigone”

Posted in ELA, English, Literature, Shakespeare, Success

Chapter 29: Come, Ye Spirits

Confession time: Lady Macbeth was one of the reasons I became an English teacher.

My senior year, I was sure I hated Shakespeare. After all, we’d read Romeo and Juliet my freshman year and Julius Caesar my sophomore year, and I’d hated both.

At the time, I was a hopeless Andrew Lloyd Webber fangirl. I had fallen in love with Evita over the summer. And my teacher knew it.

By the time she got done describing Lady Macbeth, I was the ruthless Scottish queen’s biggest fan. I spent hours at the local city library, reading Contemporary Literary Criticism. I cut class to spend afternoons poring over back issues of Shakespeare Quarterly at SIU’s Morris Library. (I swear I am not making that up.) I drew elaborate pen-and-ink illustrations of my favorite scenes from the play. And, of course, I memorized the speech from Act I, Scene 5, in which Lady Macbeth invokes the spirits, reciting it before scholar-bowl tournaments to hype myself up and daydreaming about teaching it to a roomful of bright-eyed seniors.

This morning — 26 years, 900 miles, and an English degree later — a bright-eyed senior taught me something about that speech.

A girl had just read the first lines of Act II, Scene 2 — “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold./What hath quenched them hath given me fire” — when a boy raised his hand.

“Do you think that could be the spirits she was talking about the other day?” he asked.

My jaw dropped.

Shakespeare LOVED puns. He played with words constantly. We talk about that a lot in class. And yet, somehow, neither my teacher, nor my British lit professors, nor my Shakespeare professor, nor I, nor any of the umpteen critics whose work I read in Shakespeare Quarterly stopped to consider that if you were a mean drunk — as Lady Macbeth implies she is — the “spirits that tend on mortal thoughts” might be more liquid than ethereal.

I don’t know whether that was Shakespeare’s intent. But it makes sense, and it’s certainly given me food for thought as I revisit an old favorite with kids who are seeing it through fresh eyes.

Emily