Books, Culture

‘The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’, Redemption Arcs, and Villains

This post contains spoilers for the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the original The Hunger Games trilogy

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

When Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Prince Zuko angsted, brooded, fought, self-destructed, learned and grew his way from the obsessive pursuit of Avatar Aang to a spot right in the heart of the ‘Gaang’ willing to risk his life for his new friends, he cemented his spot as the prodigal son of redeemed villains ever since then. Fans of characters from Sharpay Evans to Kylo Ren, from Jenny Humphrey to Draco Malfoy, of any character on the spectrum from “considered annoying by the general audience” to “has murdered several people but looked really good while doing it” have compared their faves to the seminal bad-guy-turned-good, and it’s easy to see why. The redemption arc and the sympathetic antagonist are narrative tropes that have been popular as long as literature has been around. Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s journey from enemies to friends (??) / blood-brothers (??) / lovers (??) would give most modern angsty fanfiction writers a run for their money. Milton’s Satan, with his radical spirit and unholy charisma, is the baddest of bad-boys, and the spate of Byronic heroes that populate literature from Lord Ruthven to Claude Frollo to Heathcliff have had wildly passionate fan bases since long before the internet was around to facilitate general fandom culture. 

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Books, Culture, films

Can media overexposure harm Jane Austen?

I like to think my personality is more than a collection of English student stereotypes, but when it comes to Jane Austen adaptations, I’m not ashamed to say I’m an absolute sucker. To that end, it was only natural that when doing a module on Jane Austen in university last year, I decided to examine the enduring popularity of the Jane Austen adaptations that I and so many others devour and question their effect on the legacy of Austen’s work. I decided to share that essay here!


A quick google search for “most famous english writers” will yield a pantheon of literature’s greatest hits, topped by William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen. The two men have in common long, illustrious careers characterised by incredible breadth of range. Next to them, Austen seems a curious inclusion, her six completed novels and relatively short career making her seem almost an interloper by comparison. And yet there has never in living memory been any doubt cast upon Austen’s position as one of the “greats.” What is perhaps most striking is that her popularity stretches both to the realms of academia and literary criticism, and to that of popular enjoyment — Austen quotes printed on an assortment of mugs and t-shirts and tote bags are ever-popular souvenirs, and Cassandra Austen’s portrait of her sister is now as recognisable an image as the etching of Shakespeare that graces the first folio. 

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Books, Culture

Quaranteed Great Reads: Book Recommendations for Self-Isolation

I won’t be the first to tell you that with the COVID-19 pandemic we’re living in unprecedented times with many of us living under the kind of massive lifestyle haul we may never have seen before. There’s a lot of pressure going round now about how to #hustle and stay on the #grind while we’re all staying at home, and I’m here to tell you to ignore that. Sure, it’s great to maintain a regular schedule when all the world’s gone to hell. Keeping on top of work and staying organised can be great if it makes you feel more in control and like this whole situation is more manageable. But if all you’re doing is surviving right now, that’s more than okay too! This is a global pandemic, not a few bad sick days — it’s important to remember that, strange as it may seem, staying at home is the big achievement and if you don’t do anything more than that, you’re still doing enough. It’s more than okay to while away the time curled up with a good book and your beverage of choice! To that end, here’s my non-exhaustive list of recommendations for books to get you through social distancing.

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Books

Changing the course of history

This article was originally published in Cherwell

In his novel The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley wrote that “the past is a different country; they do things differently there.” It’s a statement reflective of the allure and strangeness that comes with a retrospective gaze, reflecting the metamorphic power of time, whether in changing a person from childhood to adulthood, a city from decade to decade, or an ancient civilisation from rise to ruin.

However, obsessed our society may be with the promise of progress, of moving forward and improving, there remains in most of us an unshakeable fascination with the past.Whether in the enduring popularity of historical fiction, or in the constant appeal of nostalgia and re-watching our favourite childhood films, the cultural zeitgeist is constantly affected by a creative fixation with history.

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Books

Pablo Neruda’s subtle patterns show us how to feel

This article was originally published in Cherwell

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” This kind of understanding of connection, of push-and-pull and cause and effect, is a quality that permeates the body of Pablo Neruda’s poetry.

His poems, originally written in his native Spanish, work to convey nebulous ideas through tangible phrases and concepts. Sensuality and love are turned from vague, intangible feelings into palpable motifs visible in real life. Under Neruda’s pen, the Chilean countryside is inextricably linked to the physicality and emotionality of the Chilean people.

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Books

Childhood’s Clarity in ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’

This article was originally published in Cherwell

Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane opens with an epigraph from Maurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are: “I remember my own childhood vividly… I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.”

Gaiman is no stranger to adopting a child’s perspective: his novel Coraline has become a macabre modern classic in the sphere of children’s literature, and The Graveyard Book won him the Newberry Medal.

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