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Skeletons, Spirits, and Surreal Sights
Episode 33rd November 2023 • Books, Ballads, and B-Roll • HVSPN
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Hopewell Valley Student Podcasting Network 

Books, Ballads, and B-Roll

Skeletons, Spirits, and Surreal Sights

Episode #3

You are listening to Books, Ballads, and B-roll the podcast with your hosts Bee and Alastair.

In this spooky scary special episode of Books, Ballads, and B-Roll the Podcast, we discuss connections between halloween-themed media. 

Segment 1: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

This book is one that we were both quite excited to read. It takes place on another planet and is centered around Gideon, a skilled swordsman, and her sworn enemy--and later her lover--Harrowhark. Harrowhark is a necromancer, an expert at summoning the dead to do her bidding. Gideon’s initial hatred towards Harrowhark is fueled by the mistreatment she endured from Harrow’s parents and her harsh life of indentured servitude. Harrowhark’s hatred seems to stem from immense pressure she feels as a necromancer, and the fact that she blames Gideon for her parents’ suicides. In the solar system of Gideon the Ninth, there are nine planets, which each have a powerful House of necromancy. All of these Houses answer to the all-powerful Emperor. Now, much to Gideon’s dismay, she and Harrowhark end up being forced together when the Emperor summons a necromancer of each House, along with a swordsman, in order to compete for role of Lyctor, extremely powerful and immortal necromancers. Much later, as they struggle to figure out why people are being mysteriously murdered on the Emperor’s planet, they discover that the creation of a Lyctor is a very sinister process, which requires the spirit of the swordsman and necromancer to become intertwined.

Our thoughts on the book:

  • The blurb is really bad and does NOT do it justice
  • The writing style is really interesting—not at all like modern pulp fiction
  • There’s modern humor and dialects, but also an ancient vibe
  • It includes a substantial amount of graphic depictions of injuries and pain—very appropriate to halloween
  • Necromancers animating bone constructs causes them to break out in “blood sweat”
  • Duels between cavaliers result in painful injuries
  • Mysterious murders and other deaths occur in hideous ways
  • We love Gideon
  • She’s a bit dramatic which is relatable
  • We enjoy the development of Gideon’s and Harrow’s relationship
  • Originally they both appear to be very tough and a bit ruthless, but you watch them start to let their guards down around each other and their relationship feels very delicate at first, but then their bond in the end becomes unbreakable
  • We wonder if they ever would have bonded and become so close and overcome their very serious differences if they hadn’t been put in this hostile universe where everything was unfamiliar and uncertain
  • We do have some criticisms of the worldbuilding
  • We both feel like there were a lot of confusing references the reader is supposed to understand later early on in the book, it’s a little confusing and it wasn’t until more than halfway through the book that I started to get into it
  • The allure of the book sort of counts on the characters’ backstories and certain plot twists to explain everything, which is okay but the book feels flat until these things are revealed
  • There could have been more information provided on the other planets and this solar system

Segment 2: Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki

Spirited Away is an animated movie by Studio Ghibli in which a ten-year-old girl, Chihiro, accidentally stumbles into the spirit world. After her parents mistakenly eat spirit food and are turned into pigs, Chihiro realizes they are trapped there. In order to prevent herself from being discovered as a human in the spirit world, she finds a job at the spirit bathhouse, where she meets many different strange spirit creatures, and the imposing witch Yubaba, who runs the bathhouse. She spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out how to free them from Yubaba’s magic and return to the real world.

Our thoughts on the movie:

  • The animation is so cool
  • The characters are very complex, and as in all Studio Ghibli movies, the animation and dialogue contributes to our understanding of this complexity
  • No-Face, one of the spirits Chihiro meets, seems benevolent at first. However, he quickly becomes greedy, producing fake gold to lure other spirits and then eating them, turning into a giant monster. However, it becomes clear that what he was really hungry for was companionship, as he was very lonely, and once he’s offered genuine friendship, he becomes gentle and again
  • Even Yubaba, the main antagonist of the story, has some redeeming qualities, such as her extreme devotion to her baby, named Boh


  • Involves the main character traveling away from their home to a strange, different, and frightening place
  • Although it could be argued this is a pretty common part of the “hero’s journey”
  • In the new place, they discover some characters who are benevolent, some who are evil, and some who are complex and conflicted
  • This reminds me of a quote from Ethel Cain!! One of her greatest fears is “this idea where you have to leave your comfort zone and often your comfort zone is not your comfort zone and that’s why you have to leave. It’s not comforting, but it’s what you know” 
  • More haunting when you’re in an alien world surrounded by these strange creatures and, in her words, “you can’t reduce this thing to a simple antagonist trying to hurt you because it doesn’t even care about you being there and suddenly you feel very small. You no longer possess the importance of being something that should be hurt. You become nothing. They become just as important as you are”
  • “You are surrounded by other creatures but you’re very much alone”

Segment 3: Join Us for a Bite by JT music and Andrea Storm Kaden

Join Us for a Bite is a song inspired by the popular video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. Released in 2016, it celebrates the release of the fifth game in the series, Sister Location, centered around the animatronic antagonist known as Circus Baby. In the song, she is attempting to convince the player to come to her restaurant, but the creepy lyrics clearly indicate that something dreadful awaits them if they do.

Our thoughts on the song:

  • It’s quite a bop!
  • We really like the vocals; the tone is animated but haunting
  • Full disclosure: neither of us have played Five Nights at Freddy’s. At all. Which might make you wonder: why did we choose this song?
  • We have both been recommended to play the game, and been told it’s very good
  • Bee’s brother is very into FNAF
  • Alastair is hesitant to play because of the horror aspect, not really enjoying visual horror experiences—but he does enjoy horror books like Gideon the Ninth, so maybe should give it a try!


  • Similar to the other two media, Five Nights at Freddy’s involves entering a creepy fantasy scenario in which scary creatures come to life
  • Animatronics are reminiscent of bone constructs in Gideon the Ninth
  • The idea of forcibly controlling another form is common to all three media
  • In Spirited Away, a boy named Haku—who turns out to be a river spirit whose true form is that of a dragon—is bound to serve Ubaba by a contract
  • Both Haku and Chihiro lose their original names—Chihiro’s is changed to Sen—when they’re contracted to serve Ubaba
  • This kind of semi-unwilling service is similar to Gideon’s position as Harrow’s cavalier, although Gideon comes to accept and enjoy their relationship, while Haku and Chihiro ultimately escape Yubaba

Music Credits:

  • Flowers and Weeds (Acoustic Guitar & Penny Whistle) by Axletree
  • Marty Gots a Plan by Kevin MacLeod

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