Readers & Writers: Literature’s Most Controversial Characters

The literary world is filled with iconic characters adored the world over. Anyone who's read the Little Women series has a shared trauma from the death of beloved Beth, which famously left Joey Tribbiani from Friends utterly distraught for an entire episode. 

Say a word against Samwise Gamgee, Frodo's right-hand hobbit and loyal friend from Lord of The Rings, and there will no doubt be endless LOTR fans willing to jump to his defence. 

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who would openly dare to dislike early feminist icons like Lizzie Bennett, described by Austen herself as “delightful a creature ever appeared in print.” Or those with near-superhuman abilities to overcome the most difficult of circumstances, such as Celie in The Colour Purple. 

While characters such as these have cemented themselves as being amongst the most well-loved heroes of all time, there are some characters who, at best, are the literary equivalent of marmite.

 

A young woman sitting by a window reading a book 

Photo credit: Andrii Kobryn/ Shutterstock

Bella Swan. The Twilight series, by Stephanie Meyer

First up, we have the self-proclaimed clumsy, plain Jane, Bella Swan. Immortalised by the an inexpressive Kristen Stewart in the Twilight film series, Bella has been described by Screen Rant as “infamously boring.” As well as spending months on end pining for a downright creepy man who had a penchant for sneaking into her bedroom to watch her sleep, or admitting to having to constantly fight the urge to drink her blood; Bella appears to have no interests or hobbies outside of her strange, sparkly lover. 

You could say that Edward and Jacob’s infatuation with her is due to her possessing characteristics that she, as the series’ narrator, is apparently unaware of – or you could call it poor writing. Either way, given the obsession over Edward around which her entire life revolves (to the detriment of her relationships with pretty much everyone else) it’s safe to say that Bella Swan probably won’t be going down in history as an independent, selfless and strong female character. 

Heathcliff. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Speaking of strong characters, there are few who have had to persevere quite as much to simply get through life as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Found wandering the streets of Liverpool as a small child and adopted into the Earnshaw family, Heathcliff endures the death of the only father figure he has ever known, followed by a childhood filled with violence and maltreatment at the hands of his adoptive brother Hindley, and religious fanatic house servant Joseph. 

 

An angry man standing outside a church holding a cross, he is pointing and shouting 

Photo credit: M-Production/ Shutterstock

 

Despite showing strength of character in his ability to become (somewhat) of a gentleman after his hard start in life, Heathcliff is a violent abuser of women, a puppy killer, and a possible murderer. Described as “a villain” and “a black monster” by characters within the book, Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre, even described Heathcliff as “unredeemable”. Many of Emily Bronte’s contemporaries found Heathcliff so disturbing that they struggled to believe that a woman could’ve written such a heinous character. 

Though many fans of Wuthering Heights have found themselves moved by such beautiful declarations of deep love as “If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day”, his repeated acts of cruelty and violence make for, at the very least, an incredibly complex character, and the ultimate Byronic hero. 

Holden Caulfield. The Catcher in The Rye, by J.D Salinger 

It would be impossible to make a list of controversial characters without including the king of controversy himself, Holden Caulfield. Thought to have inspired Mark Chapman to kill John Lennon, with Chapman insisting that Holden would have done so himself on account of Lennon being “a phoney,” there are less horrifying reasons for readers to actively dislike the Catcher in the Rye’s protagonist. 

Referred to by John W Aldridge as “cynical, defiant, and blind,” for many, Holden is the epitome of a self-righteous, judgemental and downright whiney teenage boy. Despite all of his flaws, he does not hesitate to label people he dislikes as “phoneys”, “bores”, or “perverts.” He does this while also exhibiting deep insecurity, alongside a sense of superiority that allows for him to pass judgement on everyone else.  

“I have one of those very loud, stupid laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I'd probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up.”

Citing Caulfield’s bad attitude, foul mouth and preoccupation with sex and violence, Catcher in The Rye was banned across many US schools and libraries for fear of how it could affect the behaviour of young, impressionable readers. However, despite public outcry against the book and its protagonist, many did, and still do look upon him with a much more sympathetic eye. 

 

A teenage boy sitting on the floor in a dark room looking sad

Photo credit: Tiko Aramyan/ Shutterstock

 

According to an article published in The New Yorker, Holden is less of a misanthropic, arrogant teenager with an undeserved superiority complex, and is, instead, more of a “hypersensitive and hyper-imaginative” child deeply troubled by his older brother’s death. The article explores Holden’s demonstrations of empathy, describing him as “moved to pity unconscionably often,” as well as his deep thoughtfulness and love for his siblings. 

For some, Salinger created a character that accurately reflected and resonated with generations of troubled youth, serving as an uncomfortable truth for older generations to face up to. For others, however, he created an insufferable, obnoxious whinge bag who serves as a terrible example for young people- not to mention the murders he inspired. It’s really no wonder that the character of Holden is still hotly debated nearly eight decades later.

Severus Snape. The Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling

There are few modern literary characters as divisive as the infamous Severus Snape. Although his character arc is one of the most fascinating, surprising and well-thought-out of modern times, fans of the Harry Potter series are still firmly divided on whether he was a bad man who did good things or a good man who did bad things. 

Neglected by his parents, bullied by James Potter, and disliked by most of the students at Hogwarts, you’d be forgiven for having more than a twinge of sympathy when it's revealed, as he dies – that Snape has been hopelessly in love with Harry’s mother since he was a child. Especially as we also find out how brave he has been in his support of Harry and Dumbledore.

 

A beautiful old castle on a hill, looks like Hogwarts 

Photo credit: DRN Studio/ Shutterstock

 

Despite the sympathy many of us hold for Snape, as well as respect for his courage and loyalty, there are many negative elements of his character that are hard to overlook. As well as having an unhealthy interest in the dark arts and “pureblood” supremacy, one of the most unforgivable things Snape does is to show blatant favouritism towards Slytherin students, such as Malfoy and his cronies while bullying others, especially Gryffindors.

This is no more apparent than when poor Neville’s boggart takes Snape’s form, revealing him to be the clumsy student’s worst fear. This is particularly upsetting when we consider that Neville himself has had an especially tough start in life, with both his parents having been tortured to the point of insanity by death eaters. Given that Snape himself had a difficult childhood, and grew up to lose some of his loved ones to death eaters, one would think that he’d have some sympathy for the more troubled students at Hogwarts. 

J.K Rowling seems to be in agreement that Snape is neither a wholly good or wholly bad character, describing him in Conversations With J.K Rowling as an “anti-hero.” However, she also says that bullying students is “the worst, shabbiest thing you can do.” 

Lady Macbeth. Macbeth, by William Shakespeare 

An ambitious, powerful and strong woman who has claimed the Scottish throne by sheer force of will? Or murderous, plotting witch in the grips of madness? All things considered, Lady Macbeth is probably all of these, making her a fascinating, yet decidedly controversial character.

Whether or not Lady Macbeth is a bloodthirsty, power-hungry killer, more modern takes on her character have painted her as somewhat of a feminist icon, taking the driving seat in her marriage, and taking her future into her own hands. An extraordinarily bold move for anyone, but particularly for a mediaeval woman. 

 

A lady with long red hair wearing a medieval style dress and a crown

Photo credit: Evgeniya Litovchenko/ Shutterstock

Not only does she show remarkable boldness and bravery, but her character can sometimes be quite pitiable. Considered by some to be a product of desperation, driven by feelings of terror and inadequacy over being unable to provide her husband with an heir, and making up for it by providing him with ultimate power. Plus, there’s always a question of whether the pair were cursed by the witches from the very beginning of the play, leaving them powerless to prevent the dreadful acts they would go on to commit. 

Who’s the worst of the bunch?

As for myself, I’d have to give the award of “worst character” to the infamous Heathcliff. During my college years, I remember our English class getting into a pretty heated debate over whether we’d rather live with Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, or with Edgar in Thrushcross Grange. To my surprise, most of the class said they’d rather live with Heathcliff! 

We all know that Edgar isn’t exactly a ball of charisma, but he was undoubtedly caring, loyal and gentle, as well as being a good father to the younger Catherine. 

Heathcliff on the other hand was volatile and violent, being downright abusive to his poor wife Isabella and the other women in his life. When you add his tendency to be  abusive to animals, and possibly even causing his son’s death by neglecting his illness, in my mind, no amount of heartbreak could justify the terrible things he did to others. 

When it comes to my disdain for Heathcliff as a character, I’m in good company. I’ll leave you with what I think is the perfect analysis of Heathcliff, by Emily’s sister, Charlotte. 

 

An engraving of Charlotte Bronte from the 19th century 

Photo credit: Everett Collection/ Shutterstock

 

“Heathcliff betrays one solitary human feeling, and that is not his love for Catherine; which is a sentiment fierce and inhuman: a passion such as might boil and glow in the bad essence of some evil genius; a fire that might form the tormented centre — the ever-suffering soul of a magnate of the infernal world: and by its quenchless and ceaseless ravage effect the execution of the decree which dooms him to carry Hell with him wherever he wanders. 

No; the single link that connects Heathcliff with humanity is his rudely-confessed regard for Hareton Earnshaw — the young man whom he has ruined; and then his half—implied esteem for Nelly Dean. These solitary traits omitted, we should say he was child neither of Lascar nor gipsy, but a man’s shape animated by demon life — a Ghoul — an Afreet.”

Blog post written by Clare, lover of literature and all things history

Readers & Writers: Songs by Famous Artists That Were Inspired by Literature

For many people, music and literature sit at the opposite ends of the creative world. With one art form based around the creation of sound and the other often enjoyed in complete silence, it can be easy to think of music and literature as two creative processes completely unrelated to one another.

A closer inspection into both worlds, however, and you’ll quickly find that the two art forms are deeply intertwined. From the storytelling components of the greatest lyrics to the musical references that colour many of our favourite novels, there’s no doubt that music and literature have been natural bedfellows for generations.

There have been some instances in music where an artist has taken direct influence from a piece of literature in their lyrics. From quoting iconic authors like George Orwell and J.G. Ballard to basing entire songs around the narrative theme of a classic novel, there are some musicians who’ve taken pride in wearing their literary influences on their sleeves.

With this in mind, we’ve made a list of classic songs that were directly inspired by famous literary works.

 

Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights

 

This iconic single from British Artpop pioneer Kate Bush is, perhaps, one of the most notorious examples of a pop song taking direct influence from literature.

With the song name taken from the title of the novel, Bush wrote the chart-topping single after watching the 1967 BBC adaptation of the 1847 novel.  She then read the book and later discovered that she shared a birthday with author Emily Brontë.

In the lyrics, Bush sings from the perspective of Wuthering Heights character Catherine Earnshaw. The falsetto-driven chorus sees Earnshaw pleading at the window of her love interest Heathcliff to let her into his home.

 

The Beatles – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

 

Unlike many other lyrics on this list, The Beatles took direct inspiration from a children's book for this classic track off the ubiquitous 1967 album Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

While the fantastical imagery in the lyrics has become associated with psychedelia and hallucinogenic drugs, John Lennon claimed that the lyrics were mainly derived from the literary style of Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland.

Lennon would claim that the song's opening line of:  “Picture yourself in a boat on a river” was a direct reference to a chapter in the sequel novel Through the Looking Glass in which Alice floats in a “boat beneath a sunny sky”. Lennon would elaborate further on the song’s far-out lyrics, saying:

“It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg, and it turns into Humpty-Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep, and the next minute they are rowing in a rowing boat somewhere, and I was visualising that.”

 

David Bowie – 1984

 

With his chameleonic approach both to performing and writing music, David Bowie's career incorporated musical and novelistic influences from an eclectic array of genres. Never were his literary references more overt, however, than in this unsettling album track from 1974’s Diamond Dogs.

With the song's title taken from George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece of the same name, Bowie alluded directly to the dictatorial themes of Orwell’s book in the song's opening line, where he sings: “Someday they won't let you, now you must agree.”

Elsewhere in the lyrics, Bowie explores the violent, oppressive undertones of the novel in lines like “Beware the savage lure of 1984”, as well as the apathy and nihilism that grip the main characters in words such as “You'll be shooting up on anything, tomorrow's never there”.

Originally, Bowie had sought to make the entirety of Diamond Dogs a concept album on the novel until he was denied the rights to do so by Orwell’s widow. While dystopian themes run throughout the glam rock album, only this song remained faithful to the original blueprint.

 

Manic Street Preachers – Faster

 

There are few, if any novels, that have directly inspired the world of alternative music to the level of George Orwell’s 1984. From the aforementioned David Bowie track to the Eurythmics 1984 single Ministry of Love and Radiohead's brooding 2003 release 2+2=5, Orwell’s most famous book has remained a source of inspiration to artists throughout the decades.

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the Manic Street Preachers – a band famed for the extensive use of literary references – would take direct influence from the classic novel at some point in their career. As the main single from their tortured 1994 masterpiece The Holy Bible, Faster opens with a spoken word rendition of a defiant line from the novel’s main protagonist Winston Smith: “I hate purity, I hate goodness! I don't want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt” before breaking into a menacing post-punk riff that encapsulates the spirit of the novel.

Throughout the song’s lyrics, which see lyricist Richey Edwards simultaneously document his self-hatred and boast about his superior intelligence, there are numerous proclamations that appear to be referential to lines in 1984. A notable example occurs in the bridge before the second chorus when singer James Dean Bradfield spits, “I’ve been too honest with myself/I should’ve lied like everybody else”, a lyric which appears to take direct reference from a novel passage that says: “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

While there have been numerous homages to 1984 throughout music history, there have been few that have captured the claustrophobic malice of the seminal novel quite as the Manics did here.

 

Morrissey – Now My Heart is Full

 

Like the Manic Street Preachers, Morrissey's work, both in The Smiths and as a solo artist, is littered with references to writers. From the triumphant homage to poets John Keats, W.B Yeats, and Oscar Wilde in Cemetry Gates to the irreverent mention of Shakespearean characters Anthony and Cleopatra in Some Girls are Bigger than Others,  Manchester’s bastion of melancholic indie has a literary reference to suit any occasion.

It's Graham Greene’s 1938 crime novel Brighton Rock that provides the backdrop to Morrissey’s 1994 single Now My Heart is Full. Whereas the other songs on the list take direct influence from a book’s narrative, Now My Heart is Full uses literary references as a way to highlight the novel’s importance to the songwriter’s own identity.  With the verses documenting a fraught household atmosphere, Morrissey bursts into a chorus that mentions novel characters Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, and Cupitt as some of his only friends.

The premise of the song is very much in line with common Morrissey themes such as loneliness and isolation.  In bringing the Brighton Rock characters to life, he highlights the escapism that both music and literature can provide people in their darkest, most desperate times.

 

Bloc Party – Song For Clay (Disappear Here)

 

The first two Bloc Party albums have often been described as coming-of-age albums by both fans and critics. It’s therefore fitting that the opening track off their second album, A Weekend in the City, takes direct influence from the coming of age novel Less Than Zero.

Written by American author Bret Easton Ellis, the 1985 released book is an angsty, nihilistic memoir in the same mould as J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Song for Clay takes its title directly from the name of novel’s main protagonist and frontman, Kele Okereke’s depictions of sexual promiscuity, hedonism, and ultimate apathy are in direct parallel with Clay’s own narrative.

There are few greater examples of the synergistic influence music and literature can have with each other than Less than Zero. While Bloc Party would find inspiration from the contents of the novel, Bret Easton Ellis had initially taken inspiration from the world of music for the book’s title, which is taken from an Elvis Costello track of the same name.

 

The Libertines – Narcissist

 

Like many of their musical heroes, The Libertines were a band that openly celebrated their literary influences in their songs. In this track from their self-titled second album, songwriters Pete Doherty and Carl Barat use the protagonist in Oscar Wilde’s philosophical novel The Picture of Dorian Gray as a metaphor for the perceived vanity of London hipsters.

The song's lyrics offer a scathing putdown of folk who they describe as “Professionally trendy in the glow of Claphans sun”  before sarcastically quipping about their desire to be Dorian Gray – the novel’s main character who notoriously sells his soul to maintain his youth and beauty.

In classic Libertines fashion, Narcissist saw the band evoke the spirit of a classic literary figure to amplify the sentiment of their lyrics.

 

Joy Division – Atrocity Exhibition

 

The Joy Division’s second album Closer is widely considered to be one the darkest and most brutal albums ever made. Written amid singer Ian Curtis’ ongoing battles with depression and epilepsy, the album contains numerous historical and literary references that further enhance the album’s brooding and occasionally frenetic darkness.

Atrocity Exhibition takes its name from the title of J.G. Ballard’s haunting 1970 novel.  The book is a collection of short stories in which a psychotic mental hospital doctor attempts to come to terms with the world around him. 

The lyrics of Atrocity Exhibition reflect the same malaise of the novel with lines like “Asylums with doors open wide/ Where people had paid to see inside”, evoking the same unnerving danger that Ballard was renowned for.

In Atrocity Exhibition, Joy Division took the paranoia and psychosis of Ballard’s narrative and added a visceral, gothic soundtrack.

 

Conclusion

 

Throughout the history of music, there have been many songwriters who’ve taken inspiration from the immersive language and rich narratives found in classic literature.

Equally, there’ve been numerous notable instances where the sounds and culture surrounding certain bands and music scenes have impacted the narrative of an iconic book.  From the litany of post-punk references found in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting to the music-obsessed plot in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, there have been numerous instances where the influence between music and literature has worked in reverse.

While we’ve selected eight examples here, these are just a fraction of the many great instances when music and literature have intertwined. For as long as popular music maintains a strong lyrical component and literature seeks to reflect popular culture, these two art forms will continue to inspire one another for generations to come.

 

Blog post written by James; an avid reader and music and football fanatic. 

Readers & Writers: My Favourite Childhood Books

(IFeature image credit: GoodStudio/Shutterstock)

 

This piece is part of our Readers and Writers series, where each of our content writers chooses an aspect of the written word that excites them.

 

The older I get, the harder it becomes to vividly remember my childhood. But one thing that does stand out are the books that I used to read as a child. 

One of my earliest childhood memories with books would be the annual summer reading task run by the local library. 

Nothing was more exhilarating than going to the library, choosing a book and taking it out, only to read it and return it a week later. By telling the librarian what the book was about, and why you enjoyed it, you then earnt a sticker. Do this another five times, and you could complete the summer reading challenge. 

Who would have thought that such a simple reward policy could bring so much joy?! 

And it was this that really cemented my love of reading growing up as a child. The library became a literary haven; a labyrinth of stories to enjoy, make-believe worlds to immerse yourself in and wonderful characters you aspired to be.  

With this in mind, I have decided to take a trip down memory lane, and revisit the 10 most memorable books from my childhood that have helped shape the passion for reading I have today as an adult. 

1. Funnybones by Janet and Allan Ahlberg 

Skeletons in different positions

(Image credit: AVA Bitter/Shutterstock)

This is probably one of my first memories of reading, largely due to its iconic opening… 

 

"This is how the story begins.

On a dark, dark hill

there was a dark, dark town.

In the dark, dark town

there was a dark, dark street.

In the dark, dark street

there was a dark, dark house.

In the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark staircase.

Down the dark, dark staircase

there was a dark, dark cellar.

And in the dark dark cellar …"

 

(dramatic pause whilst you turn the page)

 

" … some skeletons lived!"

 

What a captivating way to start a story, and keep any five year old engaged, desperate to find out more! I love how every story starts the same, which instils comfort, familiarity and fluency, alongside an air of mystery and suspense as to what will happen next. 

In my opinion, this is a recipe for success with any children’s book. 

But, for me, the family of skeletons really makes the story. Normally portrayed as something to be feared, these skeletons are anything but scary. 

This cute little household of a big skeleton, little skeleton and a dog skeleton could be one of the earliest introductions in children’s literature to the concept of a single-parent, genderless family. Although, at that age, I am not sure I was analytically developed enough to realise this. 

Fun and quirky tales, told in a jolly and humerus way (get it?!) alongside cute illustrations – it is easy to appreciate why this has left a lasting impression on me as an adult reader. 

2. Chicken Licken by Vera Southgate

Chicken licken running away This classic Ladybird story stands out for me, for two main reasons, or three if you include the ending (no spoilers to be found here I am afraid). 

Firstly, this cautionary tale is the perfect example of a “cumulative”, or “chain”, fairytale in which the story slowly builds up by adding a new character each time. 

It is this repetition that helps improve memory, helps recognise patterns and build confidence. I used to try and see how quick I could read all of the characters’ names when listed in the story, which made it even more enjoyable and challenging. 

Secondly, the characters themselves are memorable as they all rhyme: Chicken Licken, Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Drakey Lakey, Goosey Loosey, Gander Lander, Turkey Lurkey and Foxy Loxy.

As an adult, it is now much easier to analyse the hidden meanings and messages behind this classic fable – civil unrest, deception and our faith in the monarchy as a symbol of authority. It is a perfect case study of catastrophising and how it is easy for our brains to spiral out of control when we are in a drastic situation. 

But as a child, this was just an enjoyable short story, with memorable characters and a particularly vivid ending (again, no spoilers). 

 

(Image credit: Bubble Gun Studio/Shutterstock)

3. Goosebumps by R.L.Stine

set of Goosebump books on a table

(Image credit: TonelsonProductions/Shutterstock)

These stories were, by far, my favourite series of books growing up. 

This collection of stories involving a cocktail of mystery, magic, adventure and horror, probably found their way onto many millennials’ bookshelves.  

I particularly enjoyed the plot twists and cliffhanger sentences at the end of each chapter that just made you eager to carry on and read more. 

Whether it was tales of ventriloquist dummies coming to life (Night of the Living Dummy), cameras that predict, or change the future (Say Cheese and Die) or a summer camp where everything is not quite as it seems (Welcome to Camp Nightmare), each story had the ability to make the paranormal seem normal, and keep you in suspense until the very end. 

Widely criticised for not being age appropriate, and introducing horror too early to children, author Robert Lawrence Stein claims that it actually helps children to come to terms with common fears, such as ‘the dark’, unfamiliar places and strange phenomena. And I would have to agree. I certainly wasn’t left traumatised by his stories; in fact all they did was increase my appetite for more. 

The stories always had ‘happy’ endings, albeit sometimes with a slightly twisted fate for the character(s), but this made them even more memorable. 

4. Matilda by Roald Dahl 

Matilda sitting on a pile of books

(Image credit: Olga Popova/Shutterstock)

When you think of children’s books, and more specifically children’s authors, Roald Dahl is likely to be somewhere near the top of the list. And quite frankly, I could have easily selected 10 titles by him alone for this top 10.  

As with many of Dahl’s stories, it is the ability to turn something quite banal into an inspiring, quirky and otherworldly tale of mysticism and wonder. And Matilda certainly fits the bill! 

For me, Matilda is the perfect role model for young children. She is intelligent, keen to learn and stands up for what she believes in, whilst still maintaining a cheeky, mischievous nature that pushes the boundaries set out by the adults in her life. 

The characters she encounters, and how she navigates them, really makes this story work on so many levels. 

What is so special about the story of Matilda, is how relatable it is to some of the challenges faced by children growing up in an adult’s world. And the fact that she is able to meet those challenges head on, with resilience, determination and a level of self belief that is to be admired. 

5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

 

As a child reading this, Dahl manages to tap into that one thing that most children crave more than anything: chocolate! An ice cream resembling a tree on a hill

Inspired by his childhood of working as a chocolate taster for Cadbury’s, he opens our eyes to the ‘secret’ of how chocolate is made. 

What makes this so memorable is the characters, and how their greed and selfishness leads them to a series of unfortunate endings.

There is definitely a strong moral message that has stuck with me about modesty, gratitude and the true meaning of happiness, which permeates throughout the story in Charlie and his persona. 

As an adult reading the book, there are certainly some more sinister aspects to Dahl’s story that you don’t realise as a child – the fact that Wonka is effectively a capitalist slave owner, who uproots a group of indigenous people and transports them to his factory– where they are paid in beans. 

His factory is also the primary source of expenditure in the local community, so everyone buys his chocolate and the money is lining his pockets. He doesn't hire local people so the money doesn't go back into the local economy, which causes poverty and deprivation.  

And don’t even get me started on the theory that Wonka is actually a serial child-killer… 

I think this is what makes Dahl’s stories so appealing to both child and adult audiences; a world of magic and wonder interspersed with malevolence and unethical happenings.

 

(Image credit: HappyPictures/Shutterstock) 

6. Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White

Spiders web with morning dew

(Image credit: Case Chronicals/Shutterstock)

This is probably my earliest memory of a book from my childhood that was not about horror or fantasy. 

It is a story of humility, friendship and how animals can live in harmony, side by side. Even though death is a key part in the story, it is told in a way that captivates and educates, without being traumatic and macabre. 

I love the fact that all of the characters have their own distinct personalities. The way that White manages to create an environment where they all coexist and look out for each other, is truly inspiring. 

Unbeknown to me at the time, this is probably one of the fundamental stories that introduced the concept of caring for all creatures in the animal kingdom, and kickstarted a passion for nature that has endured with me throughout adulthood.

This story really has a multitude of moral messages, especially those surrounding empathy and looking out for those around you, particularly the weak. It teaches us that friendship can transcend multiple boundaries and is not confined to those who are similar to you. It also embeds the notion of loyalty and that true friends will stick by you, in times of joy and hardship. 

7. Stig of the Dump by Clive King 

Cartoon of a cave in the side of a mountain

(Image credit: akkachai thothubthai/Shutterstock)

It is probably not until adulthood that you realise how much certain books stick with you, and perhaps some of the subconscious or subliminal messages that are transmitted to you by reading them as a child. 

I love the outdoors; exploring new places, going on adventures and generally immersing myself in the natural environment. And I can definitely see elements of myself in this delightful story about an eight year old boy called Barney, who is curious and wants to explore. 

Whilst I (fortunately) never had any severe accidents as a child, I do recall being told “Don’t go too close to the edge” or “Don’t go off on your own”. And, as most naturally inquisitive children do, you start to question “Why? What is out there? What am I missing out on?”. 

And that is exactly what Barney does in this story. When he falls and lands in a cave, he comes across a short, hairy individual living there, looking bedraggled and unkempt. It is the start of a beautiful friendship between the two unlikeliest of companions that continues to blossom as the story unfolds. 

Similar to Charlotte’s Web, this is a tale of tolerance, embracing those that are different and seeking to make the world a better place; something which hopefully we can all relate to. 

8. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Bennett 

A secret garden located behind a gate, located on a wall

(Image credit: Martin Gstoehl/Shutterstock)

This was a book that was located on my bookshelf for a number of years before I actually decided to read it. I think I was probably put off by the 375 pages of small font size and seemingly dense chapters. 

But, by the time I read it in my teens, I was presented with a delightful and enduring classic tale of mystery, spirituality and childhood wonder. 

All of this is triggered by the discovery of a secret, walled garden within the grounds of an ancient manor house that is permanently locked, and the mystery unfolds from there. 

I particularly love the way in which nature is depicted in the story; the psychological importance of being connected to the natural world and the way in which it can be used as a restorative tool for the soul. I think this is probably what solidified my connection with nature and the enjoyment of being outdoors from a very early age. 

I would often explore the garden of my Nan and Grandad’s house with such inspiration – playing amongst the flowers, searching for creepy crawlies in the soil and admiring the birds as they came to feed. 

At the time of reading it, I was likely inspired by how a troubled child transformed into a caring individual and the magical powers of the garden. And as an adult, I would have to concur that nature really does have these healing properties for the body, soul and mind. 

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

A wooden house on fire

(Image credit: Jasiek03/Shutterstock)

Out of all the books we were ‘forced’ to read in school, this is probably the one that sticks with me the most vividly. 

I do not use this word in a negative context; after all, there were set texts that we were told to read, whether that was prescribed by the curriculum or the teacher. 

This one just happens to be the most memorable in my school life, for a number of different reasons. 

I remember being so shocked and appalled that people would treat other human beings with such hatred, violence and disrespect. Public humiliations, physical abuse and the setting fire to property were just a few of the ways in which these white people manifested their hate for the black people in their community. 

But beyond that, is the way in which the mistreated show loyalty to one another, resilience and determination to hold onto their freedom in the form of land ownership, while taking a strong, yet peaceful stand, against these violent acts of racism. 

This was an incredibly clever story written by Taylor, who highlights the harsh realities of being a black citizen in America, alongside the strength of character shown by these communities.

10. Fly Fishing by J.R. Hartley

Silhouette of a man fly-fishing in a river

(Image credit: Sutthithep Kaensuwan/Shutterstock)

This is probably not an obvious book to see on a top 10 list of most memorable childhood books, but this one is truly personal to me. 

My father loves to fish, and having taken me once during my childhood, I could not see the point of getting up at the crack of dawn, and sitting on the edge of a large pond for the entire day. 

Yes, it was incredibly exciting when we caught a fish. But the novelty soon wore off after catching the tenth perch of the day, and all of them the same size. 

The stories from the book were incredibly heartwarming, and gave me a glimpse of a life that I had never seen, growing up in a predominantly urbanised corner of Essex. 

Written in a time before and during World War Two, it also gives an idyllic depiction into rural life in Britain, and the challenges faced by the fishing community during this period of time. 

Final thoughts  

Thank you for reading through my nostalgic summary of my most influential childhood books. 

This journey has made me realise two very important things about my relationship with books growing up.  

Firstly, how fortunate I was to grow up in an environment with an abundance of literature; whether that was a local library, a bookshelf in my bedroom or school books. 

Secondly, being surrounded by adults who encouraged me to read for pleasure. It is to them that I am, and will always be, eternally grateful. 

 

Blog post written by Sean; a naturally inquisitive geographer, avid reader and knowledge enthusiast.

What is Biohacking? How to Become Your Best Self Using Biology

We all want to perform our best, both physically and mentally. Whether it’s getting in shape, boosting memory or improving overall health, we love trying to better ourselves.


Self-improvement is the basis of biohacking: a means of becoming the best possible version of yourself by manipulating your own biology. But the scope of biohacking has grown over the years and the lengths individuals will take to “improve” themselves seem boundless.


So, what does “biohacking” really mean? Is it safe to practice and how can you apply its principles to upgrade your own life?

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5 Free Ways to Train Your Brain and Improve Your Mental Capacity

5 Free Ways to Train Your Brain and Improve Your Mental Capacity

We all know the importance of exercise—the means of moving your body to improve blood flow, concentration and overall health. But few of us consider how important it is to also exercise our brains.

As we age, our cognitive skills and memory dwindle and even thinking becomes harder. But, by exercising our brain regularly, we can improve both our mental capacity and memory as well as delay cognitive decline.

Known as neuroplasticity, your brain has the ability to learn and grow throughout your life by reorganising its structure and creating new neural pathways. But to achieve this you need to be training and ‘exercising’ your brain regularly.

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Is Negativity Losing Its Place on the Internet?

The dream for the internet, when it was first introduced, was to support human connection no matter the distance. What the founders may not have expected was the negativity and toxic atmosphere the creation soon descended into. However, it seems that negativity is being driven away by a barrage of accounts that only deliver positive news, movements that shape our world, and strict online laws that can change a person’s life. But, is negativity really losing its place on the internet?

 

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Ecotourism in the United Kingdom

Ecotourism can help in the complex process of repairing the ‘lungs’ of the earth. Image courtesy of Mynatour

 

The term ecotourism, coined in 1962 by Canadian environmentalist Robert Hunter (1941-2005), refers to a tourism model that is sustainable on nature. As the world grappled with the threat of climate change over the past couple of decades, the ethical concept of ecotourism has caught fire and emerged as one of the fastest growing sectors of the travel industry.

According to estimates, global ecotourism generated approximately $800 million and $1 billion annually. Cognizant of this fact, the United Kingdom has long been developing ecotourism as part of its broader tourism strategy. If you’re looking at some green vacation ideas for your next domestic holiday, here are a few ecotourism ideas to get you started.  

 

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The 10 Most Haunted Places in Britain

Fancy meeeting a headless horseman on the next All Hallows Eve? Then head on over to Minsden Chapel in Hertfordshire

 

Why do some of us enjoy ghost stories, horror movies and haunted houses? It’s a simple matter of chemistry. Fear is a biological survival mechanism. When we overcome fear, the brain releases several chemicals, such as dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, to ‘celebrate’ the achievement, which gives us a happy, and at times, euphoric feeling. Seeing as we’re all about pleasing our readers, check out our list of the ten most haunted locations in Britain that will absolutely kick your dopamine levels into overdrive!

 

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