Although I have been writing stories in Latin for many years, the most successful stories have always been the ones that feature zombies, ghosts or are otherwise spooky. I had of course always known that if students were interested in reading a story, there would be less whining, more cooperation and generally more peace and happiness in my classroom. However, last year, I had a powerful lesson in just how great that difference could be when I wrote an early draft of Necare Mortem. This story, based upon Geoffrey Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale, was twice as long as our textbook chapter and contained more complicated grammar. I figured that it might take almost twice as long for the class to read as the chapter. Instead it took half the amount of time. Some students stayed in class after the bell had rung to finish the story because they WANTED to know what happened. And that's not all - after the story, students naturally retained more of the vocabulary without added review. MeHercule! I thought - I need to see this again.
About a month later, I wrote Manus Simii, based upon W.W. Jacob's short story, The Monkey's Paw. It's a great creepy story. As an English teacher, I had read it for years with reluctant readers and it was always a hit. This time however, it was a definite fail. Fail in fact is an understatement - it crashed, burned and left smoking ruins in its wake. I was flummoxed. What happened?
Several surveys and discussions with students later, I discovered the reason was not the story itself, which they wanted to discuss after we had slogged through it but too much unfamiliar vocabulary. I had crossed that line where reading slowly becomes translating. Students were spending too much time looking up every other word in one of several glossaries - the word list, the back of the textbook, or the bottom of the page to enjoy the story.
Scouring through the text, I realized that I had WAY too many unfamiliar words. Not only that, there were too many words that were simply used once. A great many of these words were used to establish the atmosphere and setting which are essential for a ghost story. How could I reduce the word count without compromising the story? I discovered that if I wrote this story as a graphic novella or comic, I could lose most of the problematic words since they would be represented by pictures. It was at this point, that I embarked on the project to create a graphic novella of three spooky stories. Necare Mortem seemed an obvious choice for the first, then Manus Simii and I borrowed the frame of a Swedish folktale for the third which became Tunica Rubra. Ecce - a mere two years later... the project is done.