Tag Archives: fiction and literature

Anachronism (n)

“A term used to distinguish anything out of its proper time. Shakespeare’s references to cannons in King John, a play which takes place before cannons came into use, to clocks in Julius Caesar, and to billiards in Antony and Cleopatra, are examples of anachronisms. In literature, anachronisms are sometimes used deliberately as comic devices to emphasized universal timelessness.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.


As we count down the days to the beginning of the school year, it may be a good time, particularly if you’re teaching English in the upper grades, to post this short reading on Beowulf and this reading comprehension worksheet that attends it.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

A Confederacy of Dunces

“A satirical novel (1980) by the US novelist John Kennedy Toole (1937-1969). Thanks to the efforts of his mother it was published more than ten years after he committed suicide, and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It is set in New Orleans, and the central character, Ignatius Reilly, is an overweight, argumentative layabout who interrelates with a cast of equally eccentric and accident-prone characters. The title comes from Jonathan Swift:

‘When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him.

Swift: Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting (1711)'”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.


Traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the worldview of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. Myths relate the events, conditions, and deeds of gods or superhuman beings that are outside ordinary human life and yet basic to it. These events are set in a time altogether different from historical time, often at the beginning of creation or at an early stage of prehistory. A people’s myths are usually more closely related to their religious beliefs and rituals. The modern study of myth arose with early-19th-century Romanticism. Wilhelm Mannhardt, J.G. Frazer, and others later employed a more comparative approach. Sigmund Freud viewed myth as an expression of repressed ideas, a view later expanded by Carl Jung in his theory of a “collective unconscious” and mythic archetypes that arise out of it. Bronislaw Malinowski emphasized how myth fulfills common social functions, providing a model or “charter” for human behavior. Claude Levi-Strauss has discerned underlying structures in the formal relations and patterns of myth throughout the world. Mircea Eliade and Rudolf Otto held that myth is to understood solely as religious phenomenon. Features of myth are shared by other kinds of literature. Origin tales explain the source or causes of various aspects of nature or human society and life. Fairy tales  deal with extraordinary things and events but lack the authority of myth. Sagas and epics claim authority but reflect specific historical settings.”

Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

The Battle of the Books

“A prose satire by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), written in 1697 and published in 1704. The complete title, A Full and True Account of the Battle Fought Last Friday, between the Ancient and Modern Books in St. James’s Library, more or less explains the gist of the piece. Swift was disinterestedly mocking the contemporary debate as to the relative merits of the ancient and modern authors. In Swift’s fantasy, Plato, Homer, Euclid, and Virgil are ranged against moderns such as Dryden, Hobbes, Milton, and Descartes. The work ends while the outcome is still uncertain.

‘Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders

do generally discover everybody’s face but their own’”

Jonathan Swift, The Battle of the Books, preface

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Book of Answers: The Riddle of the Sphinx

“What is the riddle of the Sphinx? What animal walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three at night?” the sphinx asks Oedipus, the hero of Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex (426 B.C.). Oedipus answers that it is man (crawling as an infant, walking erect as an adult, and walking with a staff or cane in old age).”

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Cultural Literacy: The Emperor’s New Clothes

You might find this Cultural Literacy worksheet on The Emperor’s New Clothes has some utility in your classroom.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.