The Staying Power of Superpowers

by John Downey '23 on May 6, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

The Staying Power of Superpowers

Douglas Wolk’s All of the Marvels

Madison Palmieri ’22

For those uninitiated into the world of Marvel, it may seem rather daunting. With over 27,000 comics, 60 films, and 100 television shows—which feature multiple versions of the same characters, often in seemingly contradictory situations—it can be hard for a prospective reader or viewer to know where to begin.

In his 2021 book All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told, Douglas Wolk provides a roadmap to the Marvel universe. As Wolk explains in the book’s introduction, a lifelong love of Marvel coupled with a realization that no one had yet attempted to trace a larger “Marvel story” that encapsulated Marvel’s decades of comics inspired him to read all 27,000-plus of these comics in their entirety. Since no one else had told the “Marvel story,” he figured, why not him?

All of the Marvels is the result of Wolk’s efforts. Although the book’s fairly modest length of 354 pages may seem insufficient to capture six decades of storytelling across multiple mediums, Wolk is deliberately economic and efficient in his writing to keep readers engaged. Rather than trying to create a “Marvel encyclopedia” that catalogues every single character and plot point in the Marvel universe, he offers sweeping summaries of the world’s major players and most important moments, events, and sagas. For instance, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Thor—along with their respective villains and major storylines—each have their own chapters.

Each chapter describes these characters’ inceptions and evolutions. Each also provides readers with a handful of titles and plot summaries of comics featuring said characters for suggested reading. Cognizant that much of his audience has likely not read more than a handful of Marvel comics and may have even only previously encountered the Marvel universe through television or film, Wolk makes frequent, helpful references to small- and big-screen adaptations of the comics’ world.

Interspersed between these chapters are “interludes” devoted to exploring the history of Marvel outside of its comics. For instance, Wolk takes up the proliferation of monster stories in 20th century popular culture as well as conflicts such as the Vietnam War that likewise shaped 20th century life. Another notable “interlude” details how the relationships between Marvel creators Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko evolved over time.

One of the most notable aspects of All of the Marvels is Wolk’s attention to how women—although long sidelined in Marvel comics and screen adaptations alike—have been central to the Marvel story from its genesis. He explains how Marvel’s very first comics centered not on aliens or mutants, or even super-powered human beings, but rather an ordinary group of young women—mostly 20-something professionals—going about their daily lives. Wolk notes that although these figures have long faded from prominence, one of them, Linda Carter, has made an appearance as recently as 2006 in a Doctor Strange comic.

Wolk ends the book with a discussion of how Marvel has made a difference in his life, primarily by bringing him closer to his son. If there is a larger point for readers to take away from All of the Marvels—aside from the sheer magnitude of the “Marvel story”—it is this: these stories, in all of their forms, remain beloved hallmarks of Western culture not because of their characters’ powers, but rather because of the power of the stories, themselves. The Marvel universe helps us make sense of our lives and bring us closer together, and this is the staying power of all of the Marvels and their superpowers.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book Review: Soft Apocalypse

by John Downey '23 on April 22, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Book Review: Soft Apocalypse

What If the World Ends Not With a Bang, But a Whimper?

Madison Palmieri ’22

The word apocalypse typically has connotations of violent, fiery chaos that erupts all at once, wreaking havoc on a modern world and forcing its inhabitants into a new, alien reality. Indeed, this is the basic premise of most apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. Will McIntosh’s Soft Apocalypse, however, asks readers what it would be like if the world as they knew it ended not with a bang, but a whimper?

The novel centers around sociology major Jasper and his band of friends over the course of 10 years, exploring what life in a slowly-but-surely decaying society might look like. Readers follow them from their time as nomads—condemned as “gypsies” by their more affluent neighbors who have been fortunate enough to keep their homes—to their stint as apartment-dwellers in an initially peaceful but increasingly tense neighborhood and then to their forced return to life on the move. Eventually, the group seems to find a potential safe haven, but it might come at the cost of the little humanity they have left. Jasper and his friends are forced to make their most difficult decision in their 10 years on the run: Struggle to cling to a dying past, or embrace the uncertainty of the brave new world that stands to point the way to a potentially peaceful future?

If Soft Apocalypse could be summed up in one cliché, it would be, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Even though Jasper and his fellow survivors constantly face threat after threat, issues of romance and relationships are always at the forefront of his mind. Throughout his trials and tribulations, he finds himself involved with a number of women: married accountant Sophia, who brings him and his fellow nomads supplies, red-haired, bookish Phoebe, who he loses and finds multiple times throughout the novel, masochistic rock star Deirdre, who steals the only memories of his childhood he has left, free spirit Bird, whose life he saves during an excursion into the wilderness, and his best friend Ange, one of the only people he’s ever truly loved.

While this seemingly continuous flux of romances may seem unrealistic, especially considering the circumstances in which they occur, it is not only incredibly realistic, but also necessary. Given that the novel takes place over the course of 10 years, it is more than plausible that, apocalypse or no apocalypse, Jasper would have this number of relationships, if not more; given that the protagonist is continually placed in situations which test the limits of his humanity, it is more than reasonable that he would seek to cling to one of the most basic elements of our humanity: our capability to love.

One of the most interesting aspects of the novel, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, is its handling of apocalyptic disease. Rather than one singular epidemic, there are multiple waves of sickness intentionally released by various groups of scientists-turned- terrorists. The most important, however, is Doctor Happy, which, upon infection, alters the individual’s brain chemistry to alleviate them of the sadness and pain so prevalent in the novel’s world. This disease—or perhaps cure—is the ticket price of entry into the potential haven Jasper and his friends find. 

Soft Apocalypse will leave readers guessing what choice Jasper and his fellow survivors make until its final pages: take the proverbial blue pill and live out the rest of their days in a blissful state at the expense of losing who they are, or take the proverbial red pill by refusing the virus and live their lives haunted by what they’ve seen and done?

Overall, the novel forces readers to ask themselves some of the most profound questions about their existence: what does it mean to be human? If one loses their humanity, can they recover it and, if so, how? Is it better to live ignorantly in bliss or face the harsh realities of life? What stance Soft Apocalypse takes on these matters readers will have to decide for themselves.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Review: One Second After

by John Downey '23 on April 8, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Book Review: One Second After

The Power of History in the Absence of Electrical Power

Madison Palmieri ’22

While some apocalyptic fiction novels are set in a near, nightmarish future or one even more remote, oftentimes, the most frightening and therefore impactful works in this genre take place in the present day. William Forstchen’s One Second After does just that. True to its title, the novel explores what happens in the immediate aftermath of an attack that fundamentally alters modern American life.

When readers first meet protagonist John Masterson, he seems to be living a thoroughly mundane existence in a stereotypical American small town in North Carolina. A war veteran, a professor at a local college, the father to two teenage girls, and the loving owner of two golden retrievers, Masterson’s most pressing concern is whether his younger daughter will think she’s too old for the stuffed animals he got her for her birthday.

When the power suddenly goes dark as a result of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) terrorist attack, however, Masterson unwittingly finds himself in a relative position of authority thanks to his military know-how and respected position in the community. Along with the mayor, the town doctor, and other leading officials, Masterson works to navigate the obstacles that accompany a sudden backwards technological shift of 500 years.

As is the case with all apocalyptic literature, all goes well—until it doesn’t. While this is to be expected, the way in which Forstchen places his protagonist directly in the path of these tragedies makes it particularly gut-wrenching. For instance, due to his curious status as a non-official on the makeshift council governing the small town, he is tasked with executing two thieves, one of whom was a former student of his, by firing squad. An even more tragic instance of this narrative technique is how Masterson must grapple with his desire to break the ration rules to secure insulin for his diabetic daughter while at the same time enforcing the rules for everyone else.

One Second After does a great job of finding moments of humanity in the midst of a world succumbing to moral corruption. For example, when one member of the council suggests that the townspeople may be forced to consider eating domesticated animals, Masterson and the other council members immediately shut him down. Although some of them are eventually forced to do so, such exchanges affirm that the characters strive to hold onto their humanity—and some semblance of normalcy—for as long as they can.

One major recurring theme throughout the novel is the importance of history. Masterson, as a history professor, possesses a wealth of knowledge about historical events, especially those related to war, given his military background. It is this knowledge that, along with his leadership skills, makes him such an admired, respected, and turned-to figure throughout the novel. 

However, at times, Masterson’s historical knowledge borders on voyeuristic. For instance, when at a pre-battle gathering at the local college, at which the student soldiers are told that not all of them will make it out of the forthcoming struggle alive, one of his first thoughts is that the battle will be remembered by historians for decades and even centuries to come.

Nonetheless, One Second After is an overall thought-provoking read. With heart-wrenching moments and vivid, at times graphic, imagery, the insight into the human condition which it offers will remain with readers long after they read its final lines.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Songs the Lonely Sing

by The Cowl Editor on April 8, 2022


by Madison Palmieri ’22

two birds with music notes
Photo courtesy of

They are the ruffled wings of a little bird in flight,

The muffled songs the lonely sing as day turns to night.

The gentle tides ebb and, in turn, flow,

The crashing of the waves, with which their secrets go.

They are the aches and pains,

The jealousies and vanities,

They are love, tried and true,

The cascades of the ocean blue.

They are lullabies that’ve just begun

The madman’s murmurings heard by no one.

The shift of season, wind and rain,

As winter ends, spring begins again.

They are the times we feel we’ve won,

The day’s end marked by the setting sun.

They began when time was set to begin:

The mysteries of the universe, found within.

Book Review: Oryx and Crake

by John Downey '23 on March 26, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Book Review: Oryx and Crake

An Origin Story for a Brave New World

Madison Palmieri ’22

If there’s one thing Margaret Atwood is known for, it’s crafting dystopian tales that feel simultaneously foreign and all too familiar. While the acclaimed author is best known for The Handmaid’s Tale, this novel is only of many which evince her keen ability to make readers question their reality and the future to which it may lead.

Indeed, her 2003 book Oryx and Crake, the first installment of the MaddAddam trilogy, likewise forces readers into this uncomfortable but important position. In true Atwood fashion, the novel jumps from one period in time to another: readers learn of the narrative’s present day through the eyes of Snowman, who seems to be the only survivor of a cataclysmic event, and learn of the past events which led to this state of affairs from the perspective of Jimmy, the young man that Snowman used to be.

The present-day storyline sees Snowman struggle to survive in the wilderness with only strange new humanoids for company. He is haunted by voices and visions of his past, especially those of the titular Oryx and Crake. The former is the only woman he ever truly loved; the latter is the man responsible for the apocalypse and the creator of the humanoids—and Jimmy’s best friend.

In order to cope with the “brave new world” in which he finds himself, and perhaps to help the humanoid “Crakers” cope as well, he devises a mythology centered around Oryx and Crake, casting the former as a mother figure to the creatures of the Earth and the latter as a father figure to the humanoids themselves. Snowman presents himself as a sort of intermediary prophet between these “deities” and the Crakers.

The past storyline follows Jimmy as he grows up in an increasingly unhappy household, befriends Crake, and loses touch with him, though the pair ultimately reconnect. While a great deal of this storyline consists of worldbuilding, Atwood’s choice to present it through the young Jimmy’s eyes makes it natural and engaging. Indeed, readers learn of strange new creatures such as “wolvogs” and “pigoons” designed in labs alongside the young boy.

These two storylines merge at Oryx and Crake’s climax in a satisfying way, and while the novel ends with a cliffhanger, this is only because the complete story continues to unfold over the course of the two additional books that comprise the MaddAddam trilogy.

Although Atwood’s keen use of structure and compelling prose make this novel a fast-paced, hard-to-put-down read, it is frustrating that Oryx is relegated to the stereotypical role of the fairly helpless love interest, useful only for what she can offer the male characters. While Atwood’s skill and social awareness makes it evident that this portrayal is purposeful for what it can say about how society treats women, it is nonetheless disheartening that the novel’s only major female character is treated as such.

Overall, however, Oryx and Crake is a memorable read. It will force readers to think about what they do—and don’t—know about how the world they inhabit came to be as well as what they accept as true about this origin story. 

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book Review: When the English Fall

by John Downey '23 on March 3, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Book Review: When the English Fall

A Unique Take on the Apocalyptic Fiction Genre

Madison Palmieri ’22

Today, apocalyptic fiction is one of the most popular literary genres. As such, authors must work to make their tales stand apart from the rest. In When the English Fall, author David Williams does just this. At first glance, the novel’s plot may appear to be standard apocalyptic lit fare: a man watches as the world falls apart and then experiences the fallout firsthand.

The catch?

The man, Jacob, is a member of an Amish community in the midwestern United States. When the apocalyptic event, a solar storm, brings widespread outages and overall chaos to “the English,” as the Amish refer to all non-Amish people, he and his family are initially unaffected. 

Indeed, the same people who once mocked him and his community for their quaint, seemingly backwards way of life now turn to them for help with skills which their families have not had to pass on for several generations, but which the Amish practice in their day-to-day lives, such as canning and hunting.

For a while, all seems relatively peaceful. While Jacob’s “English” friends, such as delivery man Mike, bring news of unrest in distant cities, the only initial sign that something is amiss in his neck of the woods is the visits his community receives from army men requesting that surplus food be shared with those in the outside world who have suddenly found themselves without.

However, as is to be expected in an apocalyptic novel, the situation soon grows dire. Mike, his ex-wife, and their sons take shelter with Jacob, his wife, and their two teenage children as resources become increasingly sparse and other “English” men and women become increasingly desperate. Thievery and violence creep closer and closer to Jacob’s door until it eventually, tragically crosses the threshold into his community.

He and his family must make a decision: remain where they are and risk the horrors at hand, or set out for the possible sanctuary of another Amish settlement?

When the English Fall’s power lies in the fact that it offers readers a different perspective on a familiar narrative. Indeed, while there are countless stories about an apocalyptic event destroying the modern way of life, this novel allows readers to see such a phenomenon from a distance: they become estranged from it, aware that it has occurred but unsure of its particulars. All they know is that the “simple” world of the Amish remains untainted by the horrors it induces onto society at large—until this society degrades to such an extent that it seeks to exploit that of the Amish. 

This distance will force readers to take a hard look at the world in which they find themselves and ask how well they would fare if they suddenly found themselves without electricity and all of the conveniences and luxuries it makes possible. Would they have what it takes to live like the Amish, or would they be like those who take advantage of the Amish?

Nonetheless, there are a couple of aspects in When the English Fall which detract from its power. For one, given that the novel is written in the form of diary entries made by Jacob, they become a bit repetitive. While such repetition is certainly realistic, it makes reading laborious at times. Another minor shortcoming is the novel’s fairly abrupt ending—but readers will have to decide their opinions on this part of the novel themselves.

Overall, When the English Falls offers an unexpected, largely successful take on apocalyptic lit. Fans of the genre will be pleased to note the presence of many of its quintessential elements, from frenzied faith to revelations of moral depravity in the absence of order, but will see them as if new from Jacob’s perspective.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Book Review: American War

by John Downey '23 on February 18, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Book Review: American War

One Girl’s Ruin in a Country at War

Madison Palmieri ’22

If asked to free associate given the phrase “American War,” chances are you would immediately think of the Civil War: a conflict that, while nearly tearing the United States apart, took place in the distant past. 

  In American War, however, Omar El Akkad imagines a second civil war, one that occurs in the not-too-distant future: the latter half of the twenty-first century. The novel is narrated by a fairly anonymous figure with short government memos, letters, and other documents slipped in here and there. This is because, as the narrator tells readers in the opening pages, he is a historian and the account of the war that is to follow is a final act of revenge upon someone as he nears the end of his life. He also clarifies that “this isn’t a story about war. It’s about ruin.”

The novel’s main narrative follows the Chestnut family. When readers first encounter them, they are trying to secure passage to the North, out of the increasingly war-torn South. Father Benjamin leaves home one day and does not return after setting out for a distant office which might be able to help the family do so. As mother Martina struggles to grapple with the loss of her husband, she and her three children, Simon, Dana, and Sarat—who was named Sara at birth but added the “t” when a schoolteacher pronounced her name with it—leave their home in Louisiana for a Mississippi refugee facility, Camp Patience.

The Chestnuts are able to make a sort of home for themselves at the camp in the seven or so years they spend there, and it is here that Sarat meets many of the various figures who will shape the course of her life—for better or for worse. When Northerners attack the facility and destroy everything the young girl has come to know and love, it ignites something dormant inside of her—something deadly.

Sarat and her surviving family members relocate to Georgia, where she throws herself wholeheartedly into the Southern cause. She quickly makes a name for herself, successfully killing one of the North’s top generals with her beloved rifle named after the South’s first rebel in the war, Julia Templestowe, who walked into a crowded federal event with a bomb strapped to her chest.

Despite her skill, Sarat is soon captured and brought to Camp Sugarloaf, a detention and torture center for Southern rebels. Although she holds out for as long as she can, tolerating even permanent damage to her eyes and bends in her back, her captors eventually force her to confess—not to killing the high-ranking Northern general, but to crimes that she did not commit. 

Sarat is eventually released and returns home to find that her brother got married and had a son in her absence. Slowly but surely, she bonds with her nephew, whose initial fear at the sight of his aunt, deformed and misshapen with scars all over her body from the years of hardship she has endured, gives way to adoration.

Reunited with her family and aware that the war is coming to an end, Sarat could easily accept defeat and attempt to move on with her life. However, as the narrator asserts at the opening of the novel, “this isn’t a story about war. It’s about ruin.” Even though the war seems to be over, Sarat’s ruin is far from complete. She makes a choice with profound consequences for herself, her family, and her country—not to mention the narrator.

American War is a haunting tale of how the environments which shape one’s existence define who they become. Sarat herself recognizes the tragedy of this aspect of the human condition when, in a diary entry that serves as the novel’s final lines, she writes: “When I was young, I lived with my parents and my brother and my sister in a small house by the Mississippi Sea. I was happy then.” This is where American War’s true power lies: readers are able to follow Sarat as she transforms from that happy, innocent little girl into someone unrecognizable. Indeed, as Sarat learns, “the universal slogan of war…was simple: If it had been you, you’d have done no different.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

One Year of “driver’s license”: Olivia Rodrigo’s Not-So-Sour Year of Success

by John Downey '23 on February 10, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

One Year of “driver’s license”: Olivia Rodrigo’s Not-So-Sour Year of Success

A Look at Her Record-Breaking Debut Album and Rise to Fame

Madison Palmieri ’22

Most 18-year-olds are concerned with navigating the often-challenging transition from teenagerdom to young adulthood. Many prepare to leave home for the first time as they begin college; some may start to forge their way down a particular career path. 

Few, however, capture the growing pains and heartaches, the magic and the madness of this time in a smash hit, record-breaking debut album—unless their name is Olivia Rodrigo.

Rodrigo began her career as an actress, first appearing in guest spots on hit shows like New Girl before earning the opportunity to star on Disney Channel programs like Bizaardvark and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. 

At this time, she began releasing individual songs such as “All I Want,” performed on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. While she received wide acclaim for her vocal talents, she did not begin to secure mainstream musical success until early 2021.

Just over a year ago, on Jan. 4, 2021, Rodrigo took to Instagram to announce the release of her debut single, “driver’s license.” The song became an instant hit, breaking Spotify’s records for most streams of a song in a single week, fastest song to reach 100 million streams, and most one-day streams for a non-holiday song, among others. 

Just as quickly, it became a cultural phenomenon. The single was parodied by everyone from TikTokers to Saturday Night Live, the latter of which invited Rodrigo on the show to perform driver’s license and another single, “good 4 u.”

In May, she released her much-anticipated debut album, sour. Consisting of 11 songs including “driver’s license” and “good 4 u,” the thirty-five-minute record is short but sweet— contrary to what its title might suggest.

The first track, “brutal,” opens with an undeniably catchy hook and features lines that exude pure teen angst, such as, “I’m so sick of 17/Where’s my f*cking teenage dream?” and “I’m not cool and I’m not smart/And I can’t even parallel park.” 

With track two, “traitor,” the album moves from anger to sadness. Rodrigo offers a new take on the cliched teenage love triangle by exploring the idea of emotional cheating, succinctly captured in the clever turn of phrase, “Guess you didn’t cheat/But you’re still a traitor.” This sense of betrayal carries into “driver’s license” as Rodrigo reflects on the bittersweetness of achieving such a milestone without her ex.

“1 step forward, 3 steps back” and “deja vu” are similar not only in theme, but also in inspiration. Lyrically, both continue to explore the frustrations of young love gone wrong. The former describes the struggle of trying to stay friends with a prior flame while the latter finds Rodrigo imagining how an ex might try and reuse the most personal details of their relationship with a new girlfriend. 

This pair of tracks is also similar instrumentally, taking inspiration from the work of one of Rodrigo’s favorite artists: Taylor Swift. The main melody of “1 step forward, 3 steps back” is an interpolation of Swift’s “New Year’s Day” from her 2017 album Reputation and the rhythm of “deja vu”’s bridge is credited to “Cruel Summer” from Swift’s 2019 record Lover.

“good 4 u” returns to the alt-rock angst of “brutal” as Rodrigo bitterly laments how easily her ex has moved on “like a damn sociopath.” “enough for you” and “happier,” in contrast, explore the softer side of heartache. 

On the former, Rodrigo moves from second-guessing herself in lines like, “Stupid, emotional, obsessive little me” and “Maybe I’m just not as interesting/As the girls you had before” to reclaiming power from her ex in lyrics such as, “I don’t want your sympathy/I just want myself back” and “You say I’m never satisfied/But that’s not me, it’s you.”

On the latter, the singer faces the inner struggle of wanting her former flame to find happiness but also wanting them to realize they were happier with her. Notably, however, she purposefully does not disparage her ex’s new girlfriend in the process. While she admits her desire to do so in lyrics like, “And now I’m pickin’ her apart/Like cuttin’ her down will make you miss my wretched heart,” the lines that follow reveal maturity and admiration: “She’s beautiful, she looks kind, she probably gives you butterflies.”

Track eight, “jealousy, jealousy,” moves away from the narrative of teen heartache and forays into another territory all too familiar with to young adults, especially in today’s world. Rodrigo admits to wishing she looked like the girls with “paper-white teeth and perfect bodies” who have “cool vintage clothes and vacation photos” while admitting how absurd it is that “I wanna be you so bad, and I don’t even know you.” For today’s social media-obsessed teens and young adults, the message is all too relatable.

“favorite crime” uses the familiar metaphor of criminal activity to describe a failed relationship, but makes the comparison her own through sharp, vivid phrases like, “One heart broke, four hands bloody” and “Every time a siren sounds/I wonder if you’re around.”

The album’s closing track, “hope ur ok,” moves beyond the album’s “sour” mood to a more bittersweet one. Rodrigo no longer tells her own stories, but rather those of friends from her past with whom she lost contact. With wise-beyond-her-years lines like, “I hope you know how proud I am you were created/With the courage to unlearn all of their hatred” and “Nothing’s forever, nothing’s as good as it seems,” she leaves listeners with the sense that in spite of its struggles, young adulthood is less “brutal” than it may appear.

sour, like its lead single, has broken record upon record. It had the largest opening week for an album by a female artist in Spotify history and is the first debut album with three songs in Billboard’s Hot 100 Top 10. sour also broke the record for most songs on Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart simultaneously with eight tracks.

Since the release of the album, Rodrigo has released music videos for “brutal,” “traitor,” “good 4 u,” and “deja vu,” as well as a performance special, SOUR Prom, in addition to the “driver’s license” music video that premiered before the album’s release. Each video immediately shot to the top of YouTube’s “trending charts” and remained there for quite some time.

If the records Rodrigo has broken and the popularity of her music videos is not enough evidence that the newcomer is something special, one only need look to the nominations and awards she has received.

Last September, she took home the MTV Video Music Awards for Song of the Year, Best New Artist, and Push Performance. She received the iHeartRadio Music Social Star Award and the American Music Award for New Artist of the Year, as well. Perhaps most notable, however, is the fact that the 18-year-old has been nominated for seven Grammy Awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance for “driver’s license,” Best New Artist, Best Music Video for “good 4 u,” Album of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Album.

In the year since “driver’s license” first hit the airwaves, Rodrigo and sour have clearly become a cultural phenomenon. The relatability and wisdom of her music, especially given her youth, suggests that she will enjoy a long and successful career in the years to come.

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts

by John Downey '23 on January 29, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts

Harry Potter Cast and Crew Reunite for Reunion Special

Madison Palmieri ’22

Although the last Harry Potter book was released 15 years ago, and the last Harry Potter movie 10 years ago, fans’ passion for the beloved series has not diminished in the slightest. While the past decade has brought more Potter content in the form of the spin-off franchise Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Broadway play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, among other additions, passionate fans remain nostalgic for the stories that first introduced them to the magic of the Wizarding World.

To celebrate this passion and nostalgia, members of the cast and crew from the eight Harry Potter films recently reunited in an all-new HBO Max special, Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts. 

First announced on Nov. 16, 2021 in commemoration of the 20-year anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on Nov. 14, 2001, the reunion special began streaming on HBO Max on New Year’s Day. 

To fans’ delight, many beloved actors returned for the occasion. The “golden trio” of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) were certainly the most notable appearances. However, “Potterheads” were also excited to see fan-favorites Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Oliver and James Phelps (Fred and George Weasley), Helena Bonham-Carter (Bellatrix LeStrange), and Gary Oldman (Sirius Black) return to the screen.

The special consists of a series of solo and group interviews in which the cast and crew take viewers through each Potter film, reminiscing about their fond memories and sharing fun facts about their time making the movies. Notably, many of the interviews take place on sets from the films, such as the Gryffindor and Slytherin Common Rooms. The special also features never-before-seen footage from auditions, takes, and other on-set moments.

One memorable scene in the reunion comes when crew members from Chamber of Secrets reveal that Richard Gambon, who played Albus Dumbledore, thought that the animatronic used to portray Fawkes the phoenix was real, and they never told him otherwise in order to preserve the magic.

Another interesting revelation was Emma Watson and Tom Felton’s discussion of their relationship. Watson explained how she “fell in love” with Felton in their early days on set, recalling how she’d always look for his number—7—on the call sheet every morning, and if she saw it, she knew “it was going to be an extra exciting day.” Although Felton only saw her as a friend during their time on set, they both expressed that they share a unique bond in the reunion special.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching part of Return to Hogwarts was the “in memoriam” segment, in which the assembled cast and crew paid tribute to members of the franchise who have passed away in recent years, such as Alan Rickman (Severus Snape) and Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy). Furthermore, in a poignant reflection on his own mortality, Coltrane mused that even though he won’t be around to see how the legacy of Harry Potter lives on in future generations, “Hagrid will.”

This is precisely the magic of Harry Potter, and precisely the message captured in the reunion special: no matter how much time has passed, the Wizarding World’s characters and stories will always be there to welcome fans home.

It is quite fitting, then, that Return to Hogwarts closes with one of the franchise’s most famous quotes: “After all this time?” “Always.”

How Storywriters Inspire Songwriters

by The Cowl Editor on December 11, 2021

Arts & Entertainment

How Storywriters Inspire Songwriters

Popular Musical Artists Take Inspiration from Famous Works of Literature

Madison Palmieri ’22

From The Great Gatsby to the Harry Potter series, many well-loved novels have inspired hit movies or television shows. Less frequently discussed, however, is the degree of inspiration that the world of literature provides the music industry. 

Some examples of this phenomenon are more obvious than others. For instance, several tracks from famed English heavy metal band Iron Maiden, “Brave New World,” “Lord of the Flies,” “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” retell the literary works of those same names by Alduous Huxley, William Golding, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Edgar Allen Poe, respectively. 

Another renowned artist who has adapted literature into his music is Elton John. Like Iron Maiden, John has a song titled “Lord of the Flies.” Another one of his tracks, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” is based on the famous World War I novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque. Although its title is a bit less obvious, yet another Elton John song, “Restless,” is inspired by George Orwell’s 1984.

Similarly inspired by this dystopian novel is John’s fellow musician David Bowie. Three of Bowie’s songs, “1984,” “Big Brother,” and “We Are the Dead,” retell aspects of Orwell’s book.

Yet another famous act was compelled to write a song about 1984: Tears for Fears. While the group’s song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is a less obvious tribute to Orwell than Bowie’s tracks, a close look at the lyrics, especially the bridge, makes it clear where the band drew their inspiration for the song from.

British rock band U2 has taken a unique approach to literary allusions in their discography. They named their 13th studio album, released in 2014, Songs of Innocence and named their 14th studio album, released in 2017, Songs of Experience. These titles are directly taken from a collection of poetry by William Blake. Blake originally published Songs of Innocence in 1789 before republishing it with new poems in a combined volume titled Songs of Innocence and Experience in 1794. Notably, like Iron Maiden and Elton John, U2 was also inspired by Lord of the Flies. Their song “Shadows and Tall Trees” off their debut album Boy takes its name from the seventh chapter of Golding’s novel.

Another British rock act inspired by literature is Bastille. Their song “Icarus” retells the myth of the same name, “Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith)” recounts the true events detailed in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood—and name-checks the novel’s title—and “Weight of Living, Pt. 1” relates the events of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Also, in a Twitter Q&A, Bastille frontman Dan Smith revealed that the group’s song “Poet” was inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.

Folk rockers Mumford and Sons have similarly taken inspiration from sources ranging from The Bard to 20th century American literature. “Sigh No More” is inspired by Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and actually incorporates multiple lines from the play into its lyrics. “Dust Bowl Dance” is an interpretation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Their song “Timshel” was inspired by another Steinbeck novel, East of Eden.

Other notable literary-inspired tracks include “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry, inspired by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” “Cassandra” by ABBA, inspired by Homer’s The Iliad, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica, inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name, and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen, inspired by The Grapes of Wrath.

Another song, “Lost Boy,” was inspired by J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. More specifically, singer-songwriter Ruth B. had the idea for the track when she was watching Once Upon a Time, a television series that weaves different fairy tales and similar stories together and places their characters in the modern world.

It should come as no surprise that the artist whose fans have nicknamed her “the music industry” boasts perhaps the most impressive amount of literary references across her eleven-album discography. Indeed, while Taylor Swift’s most obvious homage to literature is her smash-hit “Love Story,” which retells Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and includes a nod to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the singer’s albums are full of tributes to her favorite novels and characters.

1989’s “Wonderland” plays off of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; reputation’s “Getaway Car” borrows from the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” from that same album name-checks The Great Gatsby.

However, it is Swift’s two most recent albums—rerecordings not included—sister records folklore and evermore, in which her love of literature is most visible. On the former, “cardigan” references the Peter Pan characters Peter and Wendy, “invisible string” gives a nod to a famous line from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, “illicit affairs” paraphrases Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” and “the lakes” name-checks famed poet William Wordsworth—who resided in England’s Lake District.

On the latter, “‘tis the damn season” directly incorporates “The Road Not Taken” as a lyric, “tolerate it” subtly retells Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and “happiness” alludes to The Great Gatsby’s infamous green light.

Needless to say, story-writers have provided songwriters with plenty of inspiration across all genres of literature and music alike. Just as directors and actors bring book-to-screen adaptations to life, musicians build upon others’ works and create new and enjoyable forms of art.