Al Ewing’s Immortal Hulk: What Makes a Good Person?

Are you a good person?

That’s the question The Immortal Hulk asks. The series recently wrapped up with Issue #50—it enjoyed a strong three year run that I’m honored to have experienced since Issue #1. I remember the cover to Issue #1 (pictured above) and how I couldn’t stop staring at it when I went to pick up my subscriptions for the week… Hulk stared right back at me. Hand outstretched, one massive leg pushing the enormity that is Hulk out of his grave. I must’ve blacked out: the next thing I remember is devouring every word Al Ewing penned for Issue #1 as if it were gospel. This comic isn’t Hulk as you know him, this is The Immortal Hulk: you can’t kill him.

Immortal Hulk confronts a criminal in Issue #1…

Issue #1 establishes everything you need to know for the entire 51-issue series. (The Immortal Hulk ran from issues 1–50, but also has Issue #0, which is a must read.) You can’t kill Hulk, but you can kill Banner. This story came off the coattails of Marvel’s Civil War 2, wherein Bruce Banner was killed by Hawkeye and his conveniently made Gamma arrow. Ewing’s answer to the outrage that followed Bruce’s death was simple: “You can kill Banner, but you can’t kill Hulk.” What followed is his run with a wide range of influences: Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Bible, as well as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s original 5 issues of The Incredible Hulk are but a few examples. While the literary influences are enough to make your head—and computer—spin, it’s the original issues of The Incredible Hulk that were monumental in shaping Ewing’s story. Many people know Marvel’s Hulk and the trademarks that make up his character: he’s the strongest there is, you wouldn’t like him if he’s angry, and of course, “Hulk smash!” But few don’t realize just how different today’s Hulk is from the Hulk Kirby and Lee envisioned during his creation. Today’s Hulk is a dabbing member of the Avengers, a fun monster who smashes cars and buildings without any serious repercussions until the narrative deems it necessary. Even then, all the damage Hulk causes is dismissed as the actions of a mindless monster, similar to the treatment of Dr. Frankenstein’s very own monster. You can’t blame the latter just as you can’t blame Hulk. After all, his whole schtick is smashing and being the strongest; he’s a green giant who loves smashing things, and eventually Bruce Banner will find a way to get rid of Hulk and everything will be fine… right?

Ewing’s response would be an emphatic “no,” in the form of 51 issues of The Immortal Hulk. Ewing uses all 58+ years worth of Hulk comics to cultivate a story that goes against what people may think Hulk is about. Yes, Hulk is very strong and smashes things occasionally. But in those original issues of The Incredible Hulk, the monster had some depth. Stan Lee took inspiration from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well as Frankenstein when creating Hulk, and Ewing’s one of the few Hulk writers who understands what that means. Hulk is horrifying in The Immortal Hulk—no kidding. If you’re brave enough to read it—which you should be—you’ll see Hulk eating people, tearing monsters’ limbs off, decrepit skeletons, and more Cronenberg-esque body horror. Unlike the Hulk people have grown accustomed to with his mindless smashing, smiling, dabbing, and where he is now after Endgame: a happy Bruce, Ewing’s Immortal Hulk is damaged. He remembers all the horrible sins he’s done, as well as sins done to him. And they’re immortal, just like him.

Bruce confronts himself in the mirror…

Ewing’s Hulk is what Hulk is meant to be: horrifying, and a commentary on mental health. Most Hulk fans credit Rocket Raccoon creator Bill Mantlo, and prolific Hulk writer Peter A. David (PAD) for establishing Bruce’s traumatic childhood. His father beat his mother, and later killed her. As a result, Bruce develops Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)—with Hulk manifesting for the first time to protect a young Bruce. Traditionally, Hulk comes out when Bruce is angry, a manifestation of his anger-management issues. Ewing’s Immortal Hulk takes from PAD’s run and comes out at night, similar to Mr. Hyde. The Immortal Hulk doesn’t distance itself from what came before, but recontextualizes the past for this new terrifying—but human—Hulk.

Bruce’s failed relationships are a manifestation of his inability to overcome his traumas. His friends’ distrust in him is a result of his frequent “Hulk smash!” episodes. He tries to do good, but Hulk will still destroy, ruining (and sometimes ending) lives. Bruce is flawed. He kills his father in an attempt to run away from the pain he caused in his childhood. It didn’t work. He lashes out, trying to patch the scars up with good deeds. Nonetheless, his father will always be a part of him. It’s his struggle, one that mirrors our own as we try to be a good person. In The Immortal Hulk, Ewing forces us to ask ourselves:

Can I truly be a good person?

Literary Event Reflection: Write Here, Write Now | Kelli Trapnell: “Using Genre Techniques in Literary Fiction”

About a month ago I posted an invitation to attend the Changing Hands virtual writing worship on Monday, October 5th and now – after successfully attending my first writing workshop – I am here to reflect on my experience.

To be honest going into this workshop I didn’t know a lot. I didn’t know what “literary fiction” meant, and I didn’t understand the structure of virtual writing workshops. Also, given my current degree, I didn’t know how to write creatively.

However, since attending this workshop I find myself not only wanting to write more, but wanting to learn more. The event was virtual and included a brief lesson regarding the difference between fiction and “literary fiction” as well as an hour of practicing and learning key writing techniques within literary fiction.

Surprisingly, and probably contrary to popular opinion, I actually liked the virtual structure of the event. Besides affording me the flexibility to attend the event, I think the virtual structure helped me be more willing to read my work. As well, the instructor, Kelli Trapnell, was very supportive and not only pushed the other participants and I to think creatively, but tried to foster community with discussion and conversation throughout the program. I had never attended a literary event previously and as someone not studying English or Literature, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more, engage with the literary community, and practice creative writing with an open and supportive group.

I look forward to engaging further and learning more within my literary community, so my question to you is…what are you waiting for? Grab your pen (or laptop) and get writing!

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy: A Seed of Creation

For many comic creators, it’s a harsh reality that your series will not even survive a year—for Mike Mignola, his Hellboy series is about to turn 30. Mignola was your average comics jobber before Hellboy: he worked on assignments for Marvel and DC, and he didn’t have much say in what was being created. Effectively a cog in the overbearing corporate machine that is mainstream comics, Mignola knew at his soul that while he worked on superhero books such as Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, superheroes weren’t quite his thing. He famously hated drawing cars, wasn’t a huge fan of winding city landscapes, and would occasionally receive hate mail from dedicated fans lambasting him for ruining their favorite heroes. Faced with an uncertain future in comics, Mignola did what he had to do and persevered—and drew for fun. One day, he drew Hellboy; thus, everything changed with a few strokes of his pencil.

Transfixed on his rough sketch of a brutish looking demon with horns, Mignola fleshed Hellboy out in the early ’90s until his character landed a book at Dark Horse 1994, the aptly titled Hellboy: Seed of Destruction. While some Hellboy stories stand on their own, the aforementioned book kickstarted Mignola’s epic, winding tale showing his hero facing trials, tribulations, and the truth of his own destiny. In Seed of Destruction, Hellboy is established as having been summoned by the Nazis during World War II, aided by the famous Russian wizard, Rasputin. Rasputin explains to Hellboy that his destiny lies in the fact that he alone holds the power to control an immensely powerful deity set to bring about Ragnarok—the destruction of the entire world. Not only is this the reason for his entire existence, but it’s one that Rasputin makes clear he has absolutely no say in.

Hellboy is accompanied by his friends Abe Sapien and Elizabeth Sherman, the former being an intelligent, but otherwise ironically named fish-man who has a penchant for adventure. Elizabeth on the other hand, is a much more tragic character who is host to a destructive, fiery entity that wants nothing more than to be unleashed at any moment—an action that would devastate any and all life in their immediate area. Both her and Hellboy are pinned as tragic characters destined to do nothing more but destroy everything they hold dear. For Abe, his position as an investigator of paranormal phenomena is all and well, but his name was a joke, as he was found with a note sharing the same date as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. For Hellboy, these things are commented on in a brutish, blunt fashion, yet still pertaining to a sense of humanity. He expresses discontent by noting that Elizabeth’s file at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense—an organization they all work for—reads as if it isn’t about a human. They face off against Rasputin not as a team, but as a broken group of friends who are separated from each other in Hellboy’s ultimate time of need. As Rasputin recounts how he summoned Hellboy for the Nazis and then waited about 50 years for the culmination of his plans, he offers Hellboy a chance to join him knowingly—of his own free will—so that he can fulfill his destiny. Hellboy vehemently refuses, and Rasputin’s world ending spell is brought to a stop. Mignola isn’t reinventing the wheel with his plot structure here, it’s no surprise that Hellboy is victorious, but his refusal to be the destructor of the world comes at a cost: finally killing Rasputin, the only man who knows who he really is, and what power lies within him and his striking red right hand. He accepts this, saving the world and damning himself, as the story ends with him slowly starting on the path of self-discovery. It’s a powerful origin story, one that paints Hellboy in a sympathetic red light, and frames him as a tragic hero.

Image taken from Hellboy: Seed of Destruction #2 (pg. 24)

It’s not my place to comment on just how poignant Hellboy’s character is and how rich his universe has become over the last 27 years—that is painfully apparent today. What may not be so apparent is why Mignola’s story has such a faithful following. In the grand world of comic books, many stories come and go without ever really contributing to the status of American literature. Mignola’s work is different, as seen in his striking art-style where he happens to break one of the most basic rules of traditional art: negative space. His use of negative space, and his philosophy of drawing less, not more may have been controversial when he was working on Batman, but now it’s the source of his genius. Hellboy is a comic that originally was built in that use of negative space, a space that exists outside of rules and regulations, where artists can truly thrive and find freedom. Though some artists may find that they really don’t understand what makes the use of negative space so special, the ones that have found the will to choose for themselves and utilize it may very well be all the better for it. That will to choose for yourself is what makes Mignola’s Hellboy: Seed of Destruction stand above the plethora of mediocre comics—it’s what his protagonist does in every breath he draws for himself, not as the seed of destruction. Faced with insurmountable odds, both Mignola and his titular character were given a destiny they’d rather not have fulfilled. For Mignola, he was destined to never have made it big in comics, for Hellboy, well, you’ve already read all about that. Their response to destiny is what makes them human, what makes them still lovable today.  Their response to destiny can be found in the 27 years’ worth of Hellboy comics, and defying destiny has never looked so cool.

Why Neurodivergent Representation Matters in the Romance Genre

When we speak about the romance genre in this setting, I’m referring to complete, nonstop romance. Virtually every scene, every word, every breath is imbued with romance, even if the degree of cheesiness is left to the prerogative of the author. This romance isn’t a mere subplot; it is the very essence of the novel, laying out what is often essentially 300 pages of fluff.

Despite its sweetness and all of the immediate joy these stories bring us, we cannot ignore that this genre is severely lacking in diversity. How many books featuring two cis straight white neurotypical people—one male, the other female—falling in love did publishers reasonably think they could pump out before we demanded more representation in race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity? The romance genre has begun giving us this diversity, but in our reimagining of the genre, I’m worried that queer characters, as well as the subject of this article, neurodivergent characters, are going to be left behind.

Two authors of neurodivergent and inclusive romance novels give me hope that this doesn’t have to be the case: Helen Hoang and Chloe Liese. Hoang has written three books featuring autistic characters: The Kiss Quotient, The Bride Test, and The Heart Principle. Liese has written eight novels featuring characters with autism, anxiety, and physical disabilities in her Tough Love and Bergman Brothers series. What’s even more exciting is that both of these authors have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), meaning that we get to read neurodivergent romance novels by authors who have an understanding of what it’s like to have a neurodivergent mind.

Throughout their books, we are given different illustrations of what the ASD experience might be like for different people. We get to see characters who received their diagnosis early in life, as well as those who weren’t diagnosed until adulthood, like the authors themselves. Moreover, Hoang and Liese sprinkle in particular experiences that people with ASD, and other neurodivergent folks, have, including overstimulation, touch sensitivity, confusion about certain social cues, and special interests.

Not only do we need this sort of representation across different mediums of storytelling and in everyday life, but we need to make sure that neurodivergent folks are incorporated in every genre, from action movies to fantasy novels. I find it frustrating when I go into a bookstore or library and find that books like LGBTQ+ fiction have their own section. Perhaps it’s just me, but it’s frustrating to see that there are usually so few and that they aren’t mixed in with the fiction novels. Why can’t we both write more LGBTQ+ fiction and not set them apart as if they’re an esoteric genre only queer people would read? The same must be said about novels with neurodivergent characters; we need more of them and they need to not be treated as a separate genre. This will help take away stereotypes and stigmas about neurodivergence. After all, if every human experience is unique to the person who experiences it, why should the neurodivergent experience be set apart from what it is: a unique human experience that should be cared about as much as all neurotypical experiences are?

By specifically placing neurodivergent folks in the romance genre, we get a closer look at how they might go about any human relationship, not simply romantic ones, but, of course, how they might want to receive romantic love and how they love others. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, it really is no different from a romantic relationship that neurotypicals would want to pursue. Most neurodivergent folks want a romantic relationship. They want hugs and hand holding and sex. They want their partner to feel loved. As with any relationship, there will be unique interests and things that certain people are uncomfortable with. In that case, people in a relationship should communicate to set up boundaries, but this is typical of any healthy relationship.

This is why romance novels featuring neurodivergent characters, especially those written by neurodivergent authors, are so important—they show us the reality that sweet, sexy, passionate, erotic, loving, and lasting romantic relationships aren’t unattainable or undesirable to neurodivergent folks because of their neurodivergence. What makes these relationships more difficult for some neurodivergent individuals is the expectation that they must act like neurotypicals. They must give and receive love as others typically do. These books show that this expectation is unhealthy, not simply for neurodivergent folks, but for neurotypical folks, as well. Learn how your partner loves. Do they want to infodump? Do they give you random small gifts because they were thinking about you and thought you would like it?

On a personal note, these books were here for me throughout my own diagnosis with ADHD, another neurodivergence. I read them before I even had a clue I had something in common with these characters, during the process of diagnosis, and now, after I know myself better than I ever have before. They serve as a beautiful reminder that my life, and in this context, my love life, doesn’t have to be different simply because I’m neurodivergent. They show me that I am still deserving of love. We all are.

Books of Blood: Book-to-Movie Adaptation

As an avid Clive Barker fan, I was delighted to learn that there was another adaptation of one of his classic short stories, The Book of Blood. From his work on the Hellraiser franchise, to the Candyman franchise inspired by his short story The Forbidden, to the first adaptation of his anthology series Books of Blood in the 2009 film of the same name, Clive Barker’s work is no stranger to the film genre. As such, I had high hopes going in that this film would capture the magic and macabre that follows Clive Barker’s work.

It’s worth noting that this film is not a direct retelling of Clive Barker’s short stories, but rather a loose adaptation of two stories from his anthology collection. The film itself is an anthology and tells three separate stories that follow the adventures of three individuals: Jenna, Miles, and Bennett. To my understanding, Jenna’s story is completely unique and not inspired by Books of Blood—however, Miles’ and Bennett’s stories are directly tied to the work in the collection. The Book of Blood, Miles’ story, tells the tale of a cheating psychic who is exposed in a truly bloody way, and On Jerusalem Street, Bennett’s story, is tied to The Book of Blood sequel where a man finds the titular volume and is subsequently tortured by it. In order to keep this review focused on the adaptation portion, I will be focusing on these two stories.

As always, a quick spoiler warning is in place. While I will strive to avoid major spoilers, I will be comparing the book and the movie so there will be spoilers for both. If you wish to see them for yourself you can find the first volume of Books of Blood here and the movie on Hulu.

The Good

One stunning aspect of the movie was the book of blood imagery. The book of blood, a man who is covered with the stories of the dead engraved into his skin, is used as the connecting point between the three stories in the anthology, and it looks just as disturbing and haunting as the short story described it. Each scene that features the book of blood really taps into the fear that Clive Barker’s anthology strives for, and makes for some of the best scenes in the movie.

Likewise, the disturbing ideas featured in this movie, both the ones taken from the anthology and the original ideas, are incredible. There are several scenes in this movie that stuck with me for days afterword—from the blinded girl being placed beneath the floorboards to the mother swinging with her dead son. When the film chooses to embrace the gut-wrenching reality of the story it finally feels like a Clive Barker inspired film. If the movie had focused more on these elements, then it would’ve been an excellent adaptation.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t focus on the unsettling ideas that make Clive Barker’s work so great. Rather, the movie focuses on the characters and their interactions, which is where the movie fails spectacularly. They are very one note and, rather than talking like normal people, often serve as blank mouthpieces for the themes the movie is pushing. Rather than showing the character’s motivations through clever dialogue and filmography, the movie has them recite their personal philosophy at any given moment. They aren’t given any other characteristics that would make them interesting, so they are just left to constantly spout off about their opinions without any prompting, even in moments where it doesn’t fit. This creates a tell-not-show environment where the viewer is subjected to one long lecture on life and death with occasional blood and gore.

This may seem like an odd criticism for a book blogger to make, but the main reason why the characters feel like hollow husks is that the movie is written too much like a book. Within a book it’s okay to have dramatic discussions of the duality of good and evil and philosophical discourse over what it means to be alive because it can be framed as the character’s thoughts rather than dialogue. However, in the audio-visual setting movies create, these discussions feel hollow because the viewer is force-fed the information. In a book, there can be intense discussion of themes because the only medium at play is the written word, but movies cannot get away with dumping all the information regarding the movie’s message into the dialogue, especially if they aren’t willing to do the work to make the dialogue fit the situation or to make the themes unique and interesting. The movie’s choice to lazily cram all the themes into one aspect of the film results in a very boring viewing experience.

Final Thoughts

In the end, I felt that this movie failed to capture the horror of The Books of Blood anthology. While there were promising moments of dread and unsettling imagery that spoke to the beginnings of a great horror anthology, it was bogged down by the movie’s incessant need to drone on and on. Horror films as of late have gained a rotten reputation for being dull with only a few scares, and while I don’t fully agree with this belief, I don’t think Books of Blood is going to convince anyone otherwise. If you are genuinely curious and already have a Hulu subscription, the occasional scares are enjoyable enough to watch the movie while working at home, but it definitely isn’t worth getting a Hulu subscription or dedicating all your attention to watching it.

Burn Baby Burn…Celebrating Banned Books!

Photo courtesy of bannedbooksweek.org

Every year thousands of readers across the nation celebrate the rebels of literature during Banned Books Week. September 26th–October 2nd marks the week for 2021, and the current list of books can be found here. These writers join the distinguished group of storytellers who have dared to tell the tales that invoke deep thought, invite change, and incite social justice.

Every year the list grows longer and longer as newer writers add their message to the mix. Here at The Spellbinding Shelf, we appreciate these writers’ ability to freely express themselves while challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries. Check out some of our staff’s favorite picks.


Staff Writer Paul Stanton

My favorite banned book is Alison Bechdel’s Fun HomeA non-fiction graphic novel about Bechdel’s childhood relationship with her father, Fun Home is one of my favorite memoirs, but it has often been challenged and banned because it deals with the queerness of both Alison Bechdel and her closeted father.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has an excellent legal history of the challenges against the book here. Bechdel is famous for her comic strip Dykes to Watch out For and for coining the “Bechdel-Wallace Test”—a feminist media criticism tool.


Editor-in-Chief Sharon Enck

While some of my favorite banned books are classics such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Fahrenheit 451, I have recently added a new favorite. John Green’s Looking for Alaska is a heartbreaking tale of grief, and the search to find one’s self. It has been banned for being too sexually explicit (a scene describing oral sex) as well as offensive language and drug/alcohol use.

Green, whose talent lies in tackling the complexity of young adult lives, responded to his challengers, “If you have a world view that can be undone with a novel, let me submit that the problem is not with the novel.”


Staff Writer Lauren Kuhman

I think there can be a perception that banned books are a thing of the past but books, articles, and the written word are constantly being censored. One of my favorite books is Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. Published in 2017, the young adult novel follows a 16-year-old Starr Carter as she witnesses the murder of her best friend Kahlil in a police shooting. The novel addresses police brutality and racism and was banned by school officials in Katy, Texas for “pervasive vulgarity and racially-insensitive language…not its substantive content or the viewpoint expressed” (as cited in Gomez, 2018). However, the book was eventually reinstated (with the caveat of needing parental permission to check it out) when a local student petitioned for the book’s return.


Managing Editor Jade Stanton

While there are many great classics that have found their way to the banned books list, my personal favorite is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. This well-known novel follows Holden Caulfield on his two day trip home after being expelled from prep school. Throughout his journey, Holden rails against the phoniness of the adult world and the inevitable corruption that comes from being a part of adult society.

This book is often banned and challenged for its adult themes—namely cursing, alcohol abuse, and sex. It strikes me as especially ironic that a book about preserving innocence while becoming aware of the harsh realities of the world is often challenged and considered inappropriate for high schoolers. Despite its adult themes and controversies, The Catcher in the Rye is lauded for its relatability among high school audiences.


Rebellious writers and readers of the world unite on this last day of Banned Books Week!

A Knight of No Honor: Adapting Gawain in David Lowery’s The Green Knight

“Gawain as good was acknowledged and as gold refinéd,
 devoid of every vice and with virtues adorned.”

– The Pearl Poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (lines 33–34, J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation)

Spoiler Warning: Mild spoilers for both the 14th century poem and the 21st century movie adaption of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

(700) Years of Chivalry

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a 14th-century Arthurian Romance in verse written by an anonymous author known as the Pearl Poet. It tells the story of Sir Gawain, the youngest knight of the Round Table and the strange game he begins one Christmas Day.

A mysterious knight, green of both skin and attire, enters King Arthur’s court and challenges any who dares to strike him one blow with his great axe if, in return, they will allow him to strike them in the same manner at his Green Chapel one year hence. Gawain takes up the challenge and in a single blow severs the Green Knight’s head from his shoulders.

Unfazed, the Green Knight picks up his head and turns to leave. “At my Chapel, one year hence!” the severed head calls out as it’s body carries it out the door. So begins a tale of honor and doom.

On July 30, 2021, David Lowery released The Green Knight, his adaption of the classic poem, starring Dev Patel as Gawain. As a massive fan of the poem and Arthurian literature in general, I was extremely excited for this adaption. Now, having seen it, I was struck both by how faithful and how remarkable different Lowery’s adaption is.

The Armor Makes the Knight

In the poem, before Sir Gawain departs on his quest to the Green Chapel, both he and his horse Gringolet are arrayed in finery. Among Gawain’s accoutrements are a damask doublet from Tharsia and golden spurs. Gringolet wears a crimson horse-breastplate (called a poitrel) studded with gold and a saddle fringed in golden tassels.

The Pearl Poet makes explicit that this finery is not merely fashion, but represents the inner fineness of Gawain’s soul. Gold in particular is a metaphor for moral purity.

This scene from the poem is lovingly rendered in Lowery’s Green Knight. Particularly beautiful is the prop design of Gawain’s shield. As in the poem, the shield has as its device a pentangle (five pointed star knot) representing the five knightly virtues, and on its interior a painting of the Virgin Mary that Gawain may look at for courage when he is sorely tested.

But there is one key difference in both this scene and the rest of Lowery’s adaption. While the Pearl Poet tells us from an omniscient perspective that the clothes represent Gawain’s true inner virtue, in the movie Queen Guinevere merely prays that the armor represent the truth of Gawain’s character, a prayer that will go unanswered. A scant handful of scenes later, the beautiful shield is sundered, splitting down the center of the Madonna’s face.

Gawain the Impetuous Fail-Son

Lowery’s Green Knight replaces the chivalric hero at the center of the poem with a rather self-centered character who Lowery describes as a “cad.” According to Lowery in an interview with SlashFilm, he cast Dev Patel to play his hero in part because Patel was so charismatic an actor that he could make the audience like his pathetic protagonist.

The Gawain of Lowery’s adaption is not even a knight at the film’s beginning, and spends most of the movie wandering aimlessly through a quest meant for a nobler, less human hero. Patel does a truly marvelous job of playing a living embodiment of imposter syndrome: an overgrown boy who should have been a knight but cannot even manage to be a man.

I couldn’t help wondering if this was how I would perform, if thrust suddenly onto a hero’s journey. Very few real people would walk a path towards certain death with the self-assured honor of the Pearl Poet’s Sir Gawain. To be a person, I think, is to be somewhat dishonorable, at least when compared with the hero of an Arthurian Romance.

Final Thoughts & Critiques

Lowery’s Green Knight is a more complicated and fraught retelling of an ancient Romance. I thoroughly enjoyed and was routinely surprised both by its detailed faithfulness to the original text and its stark deviations at key moments.

Perhaps my only criticism of the film was its choice not to explore the gay subtext of the poem. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a famous for its queer undertones: Gawain exchanges no less than six kisses of increasing intensity with one Lord Bertilak de Hautdesert as part of a strange game. In the film, this section of the story is much reduced in scope. And while this choice makes perfect sense in the context of Lowery’s overall shift in narrative focus, I hope to one day see another adaption which explores this fascinating element of the original work more fully.

The Brief Account of a Harry Potter Virgin’s Literary Experience

Photo by Tuyen Vo on Unsplash

Almost a year ago I was sitting in a staff meeting for The Spellbinding Shelf and mentioned that I had never read Harry Potter. *gasp* It gets worse—not only had I never read any of the books, but I had never seen any of the movies, paid no attention to any of the references, or experienced any of the fan culture. *double gasp* I’m not joking: the only thing I knew about the series was that it was about wizards. My fellow writers were astonished—a book lover and blogger who has never read one of the most iconic literary series of all time?!

It wasn’t necessarily my fault—my younger self enjoyed dystopian-themed novels and by the time Harry Potter was “a thing” I felt the time had passed for me to jump on that train. However, this staff meeting was the catalyst that pushed me to finally commit to reading the series. I jumped in headfirst and took one of the most risky literary gambles any reader will understand: buying the box set. Of a previously unread series. When I later described this new journey, my fellow bloggers were excited as well as interested: I was basically a case study of how readers still respond to the books without the pressure of pop culture and a now multi-billion dollar industry. 

After seven months of reading I am here to give my reflection and opinion on the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” It is worth noting that while the series is surrounded in controversy due to J.K. Rowlings’ problematic comments in recent years, this reflection does not condone her actions in any way. Rather, I endeavor to share my experience as a reader with the story, for which I can say it is amazing.

Words cannot express my deep attachment, love, and appreciation for this series. I loved everything from the character development to the intricate spells. The experience was so immersive that from the first page I wished I lived in the world presented by the series and was thankful for the chance to imagine I was in such a world. There is too much to behold to accurately capture the seven book series that is Harry Potter, so I’ve decided to describe some of my favorite moments, thoughts, and reactions—including some choice texts I sent to my friend that I feel best captures my emotions during and after each book. So without further ado: The Brief Account of a Harry Potter Virgin’s Literary Experience. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. A fantastic beginning to fuel the long and turbulent journey of Harry Potter. I felt all the emotions a reader and fan of the series should feel: absolute contempt for the Dursleys, the excitement and nervousness of Harry on his first day, and the promise of a journey filled with mischief and wonder. The Sorcerer’s Stone really helped introduce Harry’s thoughts and emotions which aids in the reader’s emotional attachment to the characters and their development. It is also worth noting that I shipped Ron and Hermione from the very beginning.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I liked The Chamber of Secrets because it had all the promise of what being a second year student feels like in any situation. Harry was more confident in his abilities and his joy in being a wizard emanated from the pages as he, as well as the reader, began to connect and discover more of his past. Additionally, what I love about the series as a whole is that while the books are individually read with a typical literary arc, the series does as well. This fluidity aids in the literary experience and creates a unique and immersive atmosphere any reader will love.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Now, this book was insane in all the best ways. I could not believe it when Cedric died, and one thing I determined (and had reaffirmed throughout the rest of the series) was that authors are cruel, sadistic people who want their readers to suffer. After reading this book I texted my friend, “…it’s just playing with my emotions on a whole new level.” This comment adequately describes how much this book (and series) roped me in and how ignorant I was to the pain that would come.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. On almost every page where Umbridge made an appearance, I wrote some form of grievance because I could not stand her character—it got to the point that I was going to throw the book at the wall. I really liked the Order of the Phoenix because of the leadership Harry, Ron, and Hermione assumed as well as the number of questions it began to ask and answer. Whereas The Goblet of Fire was one of the last books where Harry experienced a  “childhood,” The Order of the Phoenix began introducing the intricacies of the magical war in which Harry would take part. I was also so incredibly proud of Fred and George (two of my favorite Weasleys) for their amazing mischief and success—I love them so much. However, amidst this triumph, The Order of the Phoenix was the first book in the series that made me cry because of Sirius’ death. When that happened I had two chapters left and messaged my friend the following:

“THEY KILLED SIRIUS/NO/NO/NO/NO/THAT’S NOT FAIR/AGHAGGAHGGAA ITS NOT FAIR/UGHHHH WHY DO THEY TRY TO MAKE ME SUFFER”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Honestly, this book wasn’t my favorite out of the series but I can’t deny that it was incredibly needed. That might have been partly because “The Big Bang Theory” spoiled Dumbledore’s death or because I personally trusted Snape while Harry was still very much suspicious of his character. However, in the end I found myself doubting my own beliefs of Dumbledore’s trust in Snape and I became ever more worried about the fate of the wizarding world and Harry when the locket was found to be a fake Horcrux. I could once again feel Harry’s grief—as well as that of the others—and I knew in my heart that Harry, Ron, and Hermione would not be the same. On another note, I was extremely heartbroken when Harry broke up with Ginny but very happy when Ron and Hermione finally showed some flirtatious interaction. It became increasingly difficult to stay away from Harry Potter fan content so I went on a hiatus from most social media and television to avoid spoilers. Afterwards I noted:

“I’m a little worried about Harry too. He seems like he lost something inside him like happiness or I guess that childlike enjoyment and curiosity and it makes me hurt for him although considering he has to kill Voldemort I get why he’s anxious…”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Nothing impacted me more in this series than the final chapters: when Harry walked solemnly into the forest during battle, I bawled. In those last chapters I had trouble reading the page (partly due to tears); the amount of emotion within the scene and the impact of being on Harry’s journey to get to this point hit me in full force. In the end, I was right to have faith in Snape, Ron and Hermione did end up together (yay!), and I was very pleased to see Harry and Ginny together. So in the end, at 10:48 pm on August 12, I texted my friend:

“AGH/AGHHHHHHH/I FINISHED/WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS ANYTHING/MY WHOLE HEART HURTS”

And those emotions continue today. I am so incredibly grateful for this journey and even more grateful that I could experience it (mostly) without spoilers and properly digest every theme and moment. While I didn’t get to grow up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione I will undoubtedly continue to experience their journey as I reread their stories and feel the impact that Hogwarts has left on my heart. Sometimes, ironically, words cannot express the feeling a book gives you—any reader will understand this impact and I am so lucky to have experienced this feeling. I know (as I have felt the last month) that I will continue to fangirl, obsess, and mourn the finishing of Harry Potter for a long time to come.

How to Read Faster (Maybe): The Story and Science of Speed Reading

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

What if you could read a whole book in one day? In a few hours? In twenty minutes? 

Are you interested in learning how to read faster? If so, let me introduce you to speed reading. Whether speed reading is even real is contested, and while there may be techniques you can try, the story and science of speed reading is well…complicated.


Speed Reading Is Real

There are some proponents of speed reading who argue that anyone can learn to speed read, that it’s a skill one can practice.

There are common techniques for learning to speed read. When most people read (even silently), they hear the words being said; this is called vocalization, and speed reading trainers will ask you to practice removing this voice. Doing so can increase reading speed. Other techniques include changing the ways your eyes move, including moving them bidirectionally (not just left to right but back and forth across alternating lines) or zigzaging diagonally across a page looking at chunks of texts rather than individual lines.

And there are numerous people who have practiced these techniques and celebrate advances in the speeds at which they read. Check out this person’s journey or this person’s. However, there are critics who believe that people learning to speed read aren’t actually technically reading.

Speed Reading Isn’t Real

Science tends to find a huge sacrifice that speed reading brings: decreased comprehension. The speed reading community joke about people who read War and Peace in only twenty minutes is that they know it’s “about Russia.”

Some speed reading experts and practitioners argue that reading speed and comprehension are inversely proportional, meaning if reading speed goes up, comprehension must always come down. There is a small window, however, of increasing speed to a certain threshold before one begins to sacrifice comprehension; that window differs for each individual.

Another criticism against speed reading are those who argue that it isn’t “real” reading, but rather just skimming. Skimming is “strategic, selective reading method in which you focus on the main ideas of a text.” Skimming isn’t technically reading—since, by design, it requires deliberately skipping large portions of text.


Speed Reading Is Real (Maybe)

After researching critics of speed reading, I was left with many questions because I was someone who believed they could speed read without losing comprehension. There is a site you can use that will test your speed and comprehension, and I was surprised by my results:

So I could read above average reading speeds with high comprehension. But does this mean that anyone can speed read too? Not necessarily. One issue is that people reading in languages that aren’t there first read slower, so speed reading is not accessible to everyone. A second issue is that speed reading might only be accessible to certain neurotypes or to some neurodivergent people. Research finds that autistic readers (like myself) are able to actually speed read.

So, maybe speed reading is real and possible but not in the ways we have thought about it previously.


What You Can Try

Can you actually learn to read 20,000 words per minute? Or read War and Peace in twenty minutes? Probably not. But whether you’re neurodivergent or not and willing to give it a go, here are what speed reading experts (and skeptics!) recommend based on real science that may actually work.

  • You can try software and apps designed to test or practice reading speeds that show one word at time in order to simplify eye movement. The following video is a quick example of such programs. The downside of these kinds of programs is that users tend to find success only in short bursts.
  • You can try skimming a text before reading it. While skimming and speed reading are different things, orienting yourself with text before reading may help you consume it both faster and with greater comprehension.
  • You can try reading a lot, especially new genres and styles. The more you read, the more you update your language banks, which can help you move through texts more quickly. Reading texts that are outside what you normally read can help familiarize you and assist in navigating the unfamiliar more readily.

So, it’s worth giving it a shot! Test your current reading speed and comprehension levels, practice the techniques, and see how and where reading faster might be of use to you in your life. The worst that could happen is you read a few more good books.

An Homage to the Summer Reading Program and a Heavy Bookcase

This year, for the first time in over ten years, I thought about not participating in the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program.

Normally, I would have no problem soaring over the program’s simple, 1,000-minute reading threshold. In 2020, I had nothing else to do with my time, so I read. In 2019, I was desperate for college preparatory advice, and I read. Before that, I had summer homework that occasionally involved reading 700 pages of Democracy in America—I was a shoo-in for the program. As a child, I would use the time my mom read to me before putting me to sleep as part of my minutes. In fact, I remember using a sticker book to log my time before the program was fully digital. For years, the summer reading program was part of my DNA. By the end of each summer, I would have read well over the requirements, and I would have my prize for completion: a free book shipped to my local library.

This year, however, I was tired. After two years full of literature and writing classes for both my degree in English and my newly added journalism major, I felt drained by the written word. Despite my love of reading and writing, the last few years were rough. I was coming hot off of a semester where I had read numerous student papers for my on-campus job, and I was knee-deep in investigations for my newspaper. With next semester’s schedule packed with 18 credits of English and journalism classes (in addition to some of my final prerequisites), I decided I had done my due diligence for the time being. I would read later, spending my precious summer months doing anything but looking at a book.

Instead of working on the completion of the summer reading program, I was on a reading hiatus. It seemed to be working well enough: I would write for my job, then watch a show or listen to music, distracting myself in a way that did not involve words. My brain felt nice and quiet, albeit a little empty.

The new summer plan went smoothly until my mother decided to move our massive bookshelf. The monstrosity is so large and full of so many books—we have attempted (and failed) to thin it out many times—that it is physically impossible to move without emptying it first. So my mother, reasonably enough, asked me to take out my share of books so we could move it.

Suddenly, I found myself staring at my old favorites: On Writing by Stephen King, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and a Star Wars book called A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller that has been a longtime guilty pleasure.

Without making any promises to myself, I picked up A New Dawn and devoured it in two sittings. When I reached the last page, I was surprisingly disappointed that it was over.

The next thing I knew, I was back at my pile of books, digging for something that would take me far away from the struggles and burnout of the past year. I settled on a brief rereading of The Mysterious Benedict Society, a childhood favorite. This time, I pulled out my trusty iPhone timer so that I could keep track of my minutes. This reading quickly turned into me reading all four books of the series in one weekend.

Instead of being exhausted by the words, I was ravenous—and I could not have been more excited.

At this point, in mid-July, I’ve certainly exceeded the 1,000 minutes needed to complete the Maricopa County Summer Reading Program. More important to me, though, is that the feeling I’m chasing is not going away. I went to the library, bought a few books online, and am delving into a few fascinating nonfiction works that I never would have considered reading in the past. My mind is starting to think again, and I’ve even had the energy to work on writing for fun in addition to my job as a reporter.

Looking back on where I was a month and a half ago, I laugh at the thought that I could stay away from reading all summer. It’s okay to take breaks, but I know that sometimes you just need the right kind of push—and I also know that I have a bookcase and a steadfast summer reading program to thank.


Guest post courtesy of Anna Campbell