This past week I had one of the most surreal experiences ever as a T.A. A student came to meet with me, with no real clear idea what he wanted his paper to be about. But he had narrowed it down to two options (after I explained to him that the story he had spent the most time on was not, in fact, one we assigned for the class), so we went over both of them. The first was a faintly intriguing though very nebulous investigation into Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." The second was a bit more...unusual. Here is a reproduction of the conversation as best I remember it:
Student: Also, I was thinking of writing on "The Cask of Amontillado."
Me: Ok, why did you find that one so interesting?
Student: Well, there's that one line about him being a Mason, and I thought that was really interesting because I'm a Mason myself.
Me: (incredulous) Ok...?
Student: I'm really fascinated by all the history, and I think the fight in the story might have something to do with the Great Schism of 1753, which would be a really cool thing to look at.
Me: (shocked and confused): Ok.... And how would that help understand the story more? Why might that matter to Poe?
Student: Yeah, I'm not really sure.
Me: You might want to go with the other one, then. Seems like there's more to work with.
So now I've got a Mason in my section. And I'm terrified that if I give him a bad grade, his masonic brothers will rise up and bring about my downfall in some obscure, hidden-hand fashion. Or maybe they'll just wall me up inside a crypt in a bizarre bit of irony.
On the plus side, I'm really tempted to ask him just how true the National Treasure movies are.