Word of the Week: Iconoclast

Word: iconoclast

Pronunciation: ai-KAH-nə-klast

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s a word that’s made it on many vocabulary prep lists, or at least the ones I’ve studied. I remember always being intrigued by this word when I came across it in my flashcard stacks because it sounded so unusual and poetic. Of course, its definition isn’t quite as lyrical as its tone might suggest; I’d be interested in reading about an “iconoclast”, but not in being one!

An “iconoclast” is someone who criticizes or attacks cherished institutions or beliefs. The word arose in the mid 17th century in the sense “destroyer of religious figures” and comes from the Greek noun eikonoklástēs, meaning “breaker of images”. This noun in turn comprises the noun eikṓn “figure” and the verb klázō “to break”.

Aside from its primary definition, “iconoclast” can also refer to “a destroyer of images used in religious worship”. Oxford Dictionaries’ entry lists two historical examples as sub-definitions: 1) “a supporter of the 8th- and 9th-century movement in the Byzantine Church that sought to abolish the veneration of icons and other religious images”, and 2) “a Puritan of the 16th or 17th century”. If you’ve created a character who attacks or criticizes certain religious beliefs, institutions, or images, you’re definitely writing an “iconoclast” into your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Defender

Why does he have to attack me? What did I ever do to him? I’m sure I’ve never seen him before, yet here he is, charging straight at me with the light of the sun at his back. He looks like all the others: clad in glistening steel from head to toe, sword and shield at his sides, a white horse carrying him full speed into battle. Hopefully he’ll end up like the others too.

I stand my ground and turn to face the knight head-on, ready for what’s become a routine encounter over the past month. As always, I’m terrified, but I can’t let it show. The slightest hint of weakness and you’re roasting on a spit for the next royal feast faster than you can yell “Scram!”

He shouts something at me as he draws nearer. I can’t catch all the words through his closed visor and the whistling mountain wind, but I know what he’s saying. Every knight comes here for the same reason. Everyone wants to be the hero who slew the dragon and saved the kingdom. What difference does it make to any of them what I do? It’s not like they live on the old farms I scavenge. None of them know what it’s like to have hungry children to feed when winter turns the mountain into a barren wasteland. They don’t care if my family and I deserve a chance to survive, so long as they get their precious gold and glory.

I’d explain myself if I thought he could understand me. It wouldn’t matter; they never listen anyway. Not one of these buffoons has ever bothered trying to reason with me or hear my side of the story. All they see when they look at me is a monster who’d sooner rip their heads off than glance at them. So that’s what I give them.

The knight reaches my clearing and raises his sword and shield. Time to defend. I open my jaws and release a carefully aimed jet of flame at him, straight into the shield so it burns but doesn’t ignite him. Before he can look up, I bring my tail crashing down inches from his steed. The animal rears and throws its rider off before it turns and gallops back into the woods. Good riddance. I’m sick of seeing these white horses on my mountain. Why is it always white? Are horses color-coded for service? Or is it the same horse every time? Either way, it always gets scared off in the first minute. That’s the easy part.

The man staggers to his feet and faces me again, sword and shield still in hand. His visor is open now, and this time I can hear the words he yells up at me.

“Your days of destruction are over, foul beast! Prepare to die!”

I’d roll my eyes, but I don’t want to egg him on. Prepare to die. Like I haven’t heard that a million times. I have to give him credit for his bravery, though; most of them run away as soon as they lose their horse. Not so tough on two legs.

I tower over the knight and stare him down, ready for his next attack. He runs forward with his shield up, but I step back and shoot a fireball over his head. He ducks and rolls as if it would have hit him, then swings the blade at my front claws. It cuts, but not deep enough to sting. I’m lucky these fools never think to bring long-range weapons. If they ever figure out to go straight for my heart, I’ll be toast for sure.

The knight hacks at my claws a few times, then raises his shield again when he sees me open my mouth. Another stream of fire washes over him for a few seconds, and it’s his turn to attack again. This back-and-forth continues for several rounds, until at last I start to see the signs of fatigue in his movements. Time to end this.

Just as he lowers his shield and raises his weapon for the umpteenth time, I swing my tail back around and knock him to the ground. He falls on his back as the blade and shield go flying. Before he can recover his breath, I pin him to the earth beneath my claws and bring my face close to his, baring my fangs at him. Finally I see the satisfying fear in his eyes.

“GO AWAY!” I shout in my native tongue. He doesn’t understand my words, but I know he’ll get the message. I lift my claws with him still between them and drop him on his feet, then I roar until he bolts off in the same direction as his horse. Turns out he’s not just one of the bravest challengers so far; he’s also one of the fastest.

Exhausted yet triumphant, I sweep the fallen sword and shield into a nearby chasm full of lost weapons before I turn and walk back up to my cave. Three hatchlings are poking their heads out of the cavern, and I know at once that they were watching the whole time. They put on brave faces as I saunter in, pretending they knew how the battle would play out, but I’m sure they’re relieved that their mother is home again.

“Mama”, says my youngest as I cradle all three under my wings, her wide green eyes betraying the fear hidden in her voice, “will they ever leave us alone?”

I’m asked the same question after every battle, either by her or one of her brothers. The best I can ever do is smile at them and say reassuringly, “We’ll see.” Mothers are supposed to protect their children, even from the truth. I know the people in the valley. They won’t stop until I’m dead or the kingdom runs out of glory-hungry idiots. And the kingdom never runs out of idiots.

Sometimes I wonder if I should just kill the knights. It would be a much more effective way to make sure they don’t come back. My children have never tasted human before… but with good reason. I don’t want to set a bad example. It’s hard enough living in a world that thinks you’re evil; we can’t afford to lose all reason by living up to the hype. Too many of our kind have gone down that dark path, and it never ends well. Still, I have hope that it won’t always be this way, that someday empathy will overcome fear and our attackers will learn to tolerate us, maybe even accept us.

Until then, all we can do is defend.

Off The Bookshelf: Pride and Prejudice

Welcome back to my Off The Bookshelf segment! It’s been almost a year since I’ve written a book review for my blog, which is a shame since I do love recommending my favorite novels. The good news is that I read several new books last year and plan to read even more this year, so I’ll have plenty of material to work with in 2017!

So today, I’d like to start off this year’s reviews with my favorite novel from my 2016 list: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen!

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Summary

First printed in 1813, Pride and Prejudice is Jane Austen’s second published novel and one of the most beloved works in English literature. The novel follows the story of Elizabeth Bennet, an exceptionally clever young woman and the second of a country gentleman’s five daughters, as she navigates issues of manners, morality, education, and romance in the landed gentry society of the British Regency. Among her greatest challenges is dealing with Mr. Darcy, a gentleman with great wealth and even greater pride with whom she repeatedly clashes. As their relationship progresses, both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy come to learn that first impressions are often misleading, and that they must overcome their pride and their prejudices before the story can reach its happy conclusion.

Review

Every so often, you come across a story so well written, so absolutely brilliant that it draws you in from the first sentence and keeps you hooked to the very last page. Such was my experience with Pride and Prejudice, a literary masterpiece from a brilliant mind of the turn of the 19th century. Jane Austen’s novel is still beloved by many readers today, and with good reason: it’s a comedy that covers some of humanity’s most relatable issues – love, marriage, etiquette, wealth, and morals – all from the perspective of an astute young heroine who challenges and overcomes the obstacles of her social position to achieve her happy ending.

Movie poster for Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Naturally, a central theme in Elizabeth’s story is the difference between the superficial and the indispensable, as well as the emotional development that comes with learning to distinguish the two. After all, there’s a reason the novel was originally titled First Impressions. In the beginning, the protagonist has a habit of forming her opinions of people immediately and consolidating those opinions through selective observation, a practice she believes is a credit to her intelligence. As a result, she dislikes Mr. Darcy from the day she meets him and grows to despise him the more time she spends with him, while Mr. Wickham earns her favor instantly with his charm and apparent good breeding. Halfway through the story, however, Elizabeth discovers that her preconceptions of both gentlemen were misplaced, proving that appearance isn’t always the best indicator of worth. The same lesson is learned by Mr. Darcy, who initially believes his proud behavior to be justified but is promptly put in his place by a woman he once thought was beneath him. Fortunately, both these characters prove mature enough to shed their most prominent flaws in favor of the romance that will make them “the happiest couple in the world”. First impressions are powerful, but thankfully they don’t always stick!

Another of my favorite themes of the book is the only-too-familiar contrast between proper behavior and real character. Throughout the narrative, it’s made apparent that while everyone behaves politely, some characters only do so to maintain a respectable place in high society while others are genuinely good at heart. A notable example comes up during a scene in Netherfield: when Elizabeth arrives at the Bingleys’ estate to take care of her sister Jane, who has fallen ill, all three of her hosts smile and treat her with the utmost kindness and hospitality. The second she leaves the room, however, Caroline and Louisa start criticizing Elizabeth’s dirty clothes while Charles remarks on how much she must love her sister to have walked so far on muddy roads just to see her. Even among siblings, people can vary greatly in character, but good manners are universal!

Austen was always an expert at implementing irony and satire in her writing, and Pride and Prejudice is no exception. Being witty and lively by nature, much of Elizabeth’s perspective includes hints of criticism about her reality: the influence of her family’s low income on their social standing (e.g. Jane’s failed friendship with Caroline Bingley), the excessive pride of some of her wealthier acquaintances (e.g. the unintentional insults in Mr. Darcy’s proposal), marriage as a requirement for women to secure a respectable position in society (e.g. Charlotte Lucas agreeing to marry Mr. Collins, a man she doesn’t love). And while the author didn’t necessarily discourage the following of such social rules in her novels, she did present them in a comical light that at least called these societal standards into question.

Overall, Pride and Prejudice is a fantastic novel that I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys clever insights into human thoughts and behavior. For romantics and realists alike, this story has something for everyone and will surely continue to captivate audiences for generations, broadening our perceptions of the societal norms by which we live. To anyone who loves literature, it’s certainly an enlightening and delightfully entertaining read!

Inspiration

Ms. Austen’s beloved novel is one of those classic pieces of fiction that remains relevant long after its time. Though the story takes place in the early 19th century, its themes of social conduct, proper etiquette, and first impressions are still universal in the modern world. Whenever I need inspiration for character development, I know I can turn to an Austen novel for insight on general behavior and the restrictions of polite society to better understand how people think and function in everyday life. Basically, Pride and Prejudice is an excellent example of a point I’ve made in the past: that historical fiction can show us the elements of human nature that don’t change over time.

If you’re a historical fiction author or a writer of stories about the human condition, Pride and Prejudice will definitely be a great source of inspiration for your characters, whether they’re 19th-century country folk, 21st-century city dwellers, or anything in between. The greatest stories are those that explore what it means to be human, which makes it no surprise that this novel always appears near the top of best-books-ever-written lists. So if you haven’t yet, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of Pride and Prejudice and see for yourself what a delightful read it truly is. You may find to your amazement that despite having lived so long ago, Jane Austen can still teach you a thing or two about the ironies of your economic and social reality!

Word of the Week: Excoriate

Word: excoriate

Pronunciation: ik-SKO-ree-ayt / ek-SKO-ree-ayt

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: censure or criticize severely

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Have you ever witnessed someone say or do something so ridiculously stupid that to “criticize” them just wasn’t enough? Maybe you feel you’ve overused words like “censure” and “condemn” in your writing and find yourself looking for a fresh alternative. If so, you’re in luck, because just this month I learned a new word that addressed this same issue for me, a word that instantly caught my eye as an interesting potential addition to my vocabulary list. When people act far too dully for ordinary criticism, it may be time to “excoriate” them instead!

To “excoriate” someone is to criticize or censure them severely. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin verb excoriare, meaning “to skin”. This verb in turn consists of the preposition ex “out of” and the noun corium “hide”.

Though I wasn’t yet familiar with “excoriate”, the tone of the word and the context in which I saw it made it easy to understand from the moment I first read it. It’s worth noting that “excoriate” has a more formal connotation that “criticize”, so you may want to spare it for narrative writing over dialogue. If your characters tend to censure each other in the sharpest manner possible, “excoriate” could be an excellent addition to your vocabulary list!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Our Darkest Day

As the creature reared its massive ugly head, we all trembled. We had never seen anything like it. Where had it come from? What was it capable of? And why hadn’t we seen it coming? The answers were more terrifying than we dared to imagine.

The sorcerer smiled thinly at the crowd from the platform. His beast towered behind him, held fast to the ground by a massive chain that rattled whenever it roared. We shuddered to think its master could unleash it on us at any moment.

“My friends”, the magician cried as the audience grew quiet, “I am honored to be your champion. My beloved pet and I will be proud to serve as your defenders in this new age of peace and prosperity. But trust me, we could not have succeeded in ending this terrible reign of oppression without your overwhelming support, courage, and spirit. We have all won a grand victory today. This day will be remembered for centuries as the day we ended tyranny, the day we crushed the bloodsucking rats who thought they could steal your freedom and leech off your hard labor forever.”

“He’s talking about us”, I heard one of my friends mutter next to me through the thunderous applause. It was true: every right we had worked for over the past decade, every step we had taken in the name of justice, everything we had thought was for the good of the people, was now being undone before our eyes because it was only ever good enough for us. It was a cruel reminder of how fragile our world really was; the harder you fought for change, the more afraid and resistant people became.

“This is your time, my friends”, the sorcerer continued. The cold look in his eyes as he addressed the people sent a chill down my spine.  “It’s time you took back what is rightfully yours. Together, we can return this land to the thriving state it once was. Things are going to be very different from now on.”

The rows of people around the platform cheered, while those of us huddled in the back of the crowd remained more lost and confused than we had ever been in recent memory. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The queen and her army were supposed to save us, to fight the dark forces and vanquish the evil into oblivion. We were supposed to be celebrating today. Instead, she had been defeated and most of us were left cowering like frightened children in the wake of the revolution. What had gone so wrong?

Some of us blamed the town criers for carrying false news and exaggerated reports of the army’s successes. Some of us blamed the queen’s advisors for devising a military strategy that ultimately failed. Some of us blamed the queen herself for overestimating her own power and placing her trust in the wrong people. And some of us were reduced to blaming each other for taking our beloved leaders for granted and not doing our part to defend the progress they had made possible.

In the end, it didn’t matter. We were all to blame for this travesty, we knew that, and now it was too late to stop the storm. History had already been changed. So now what?

“He’s right.”

My gaze fixed on the stage, I saw the others turning to face me from the corner of my eye. It might have been the weight of my words that made them stare, or perhaps they were just surprised that I had spoken for the first time in hours.

“What are you saying?” said one of my companions, her voice small and nervous. I shook my head.

“Things are going to be different. This is just the beginning. The queen is gone, the army is scattered, even the scholars are starting to disappear. There’s nobody left to protect us… so we have to protect ourselves. No running, no hiding, no pretending that everything is normal. It’s time to organize. It’s time to fight.”

“But…” another friend stammered, “how are we supposed to fight them when they have that… thing on their side? It’ll kill us as soon as they know we’re coming!”

“And who’s going to see us coming?” I said, turning to the group at last. It was the first time I’d smiled in weeks. “We’re rats, remember?”

The monster roared again, flaming locks of fur flying as it convulsed like a raging madman. Somehow that horrible sound made the crowd cheer even louder. Stoic as I planned to be for the foreseeable future, I turned my back on the holes in the wall and jumped down to walk away into the darkening streets. I didn’t have to look back to know my friends were only a few steps behind, nor that nobody else saw us leave. They never even knew we were there.

We still remember it as our darkest day. And though none of us knew exactly what to say, to think, to feel anymore, of one thing we were absolutely certain: these were going to be the longest and hardest fought years of our lives.

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