Literature of Horror, Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Course Blog for LMST345 Ringling College of Art

Illustration of Harry Ron and Hermione by Mary Grand Pre
This week we are considering the fantasy story directed to an audience of children or young adults as an instrument through which to teach personal and cultural values. These are narratives of application meant not just to entertain but to instruct and to enlighten. The epic tale of Harry Potter is certainly the most well known example of this type of story for most young people today, and if you haven't read Harry Potter, here is your chance. For those who are interested in values education that is somewhat more age appropriate, the recommended work to read this week is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a compelling tale set in an mysterious Edwardian world that features a deadly competition in magic. 

Alternatively you are welcome to read a story built around students at an elite magical college where many of the students have read the Harry Potter books and are magicians the way you are art students. The book is called The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

You might also consider reading the very interesting and deeply considered alternate worlds tale, The Golden Compass the first book in a trilogy by Phillip Pullman. In this work Pullman attempts to construct a framework in which to demonstrate humanist moral values while simultaneous mounting a serious critique of organized religions. Pullman's story is created as a sort of anti-Narnia and certainly proceeds from different assumptions than those that underlie the work of Tolkien or C.S. Lewis.

A fourth option is the series of fantasy stories more in the direct line of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynn Jones, the author of Howl's Moving Castle.

Or you may want to read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle a young adult classic that is just now being released as a movie. First published in 1962 it features a diverse approach to the heroic formula of a young person combating cosmic evil. This is often classified as science fiction but it shares many tropes with traditional fantasy literature.

Prof. Tolkien blows smoke rings
Tolkien once defended fantasy literature from charges of being "escapist" by explaining that readers "escaped" into fantasy literature the way prisoners "escaped" from jail. Tolkien saw the genre we now call fantasy literature as a necessary antidote to modern life. Tolkien's own works were to help propel the genre of fantasy into wider acceptance and popularity. At the same time, they helped to freeze elements of the genre code into place while creating expectations of the genre (the "trilogy" for example) that hadn't existed before. In this week's class we will consider the genre code for fantasy and examine some of the elements, such as the hero's quest, that have come to dominate perception of works of "High Fantasy."

This week's reading assignment is to read a fantasy classic. We will focus on JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, and will generally discuss fantasy as a genre, the myth of the hero and the nature of archetypal storytelling. We will discuss The Lord of the Rings both books and movie. There are a number of other fantasy classics available for reading on the course resource page. Pick one and read it.

Click Here to Go to the First Animated version of the Hobbit by Gene Deitch.

The Illustration at the right is  from Alice in Wonderland  by Mervyn Peake, fantasy author and illustrator. The first volume of his fantasy trilogy about Gormenghast is available to read on the course resource page. It is an interesting alternative to reading Tolkien this week. There is also the wonderful and unexpected fantasy novel by Hope Mirlees called Lud in the Mist. Consult the syllabus for more choices.

If you are interested in an epic fantasy story written from a female point of view you might want to consider The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley who revisits the tradition of Arthurian Romance to tell a story founded in a recreated world of female mysticism and matriarchal power. This long novel follows nicely on our conversation about witches last week because it deploys a very well developed world that creates another position on an important fantasy storyverse. This is unfortunately colored, perhaps irredeemably, by the author's (likely) psychopathic behaviors and sexual assault of children. Her daughter's statement about this can be read here.

click here to go directly to the syllabus assignment for this week

This week we will be discussing the topic of witches and female archetypes in speculative fiction. The featured novel for this week is Aunt Mariah by Diana Wynne Jones. This is a reasonably short novel that has a very interesting version of the archetypal war between men and women. Alternatively you might like to read Equal Rites, the third volume of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, and a reasonable first book to read in the series if you haven't read any others.

A book that takes a sort of witches approach to the Arthurian legend is The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley which looks at some of the mystic legends that underpin the idea of witches. This is a long novel but a master work of mythic feminism. 

In class we may read several fairy tales both traditional and contemporary and look towards ways to develop better responses to the reading of them. This week's focus will be on improving written responses. Please bring your notebook computer to class. Next class we will begin reading and talking about Fantasy Fiction. The featured text for next week is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. 

Link to this week's assignment on the syllabus

Link to the Gothic Tea Society

This week we will be discussing recent trends in the horror genre and among the most influential, in my view, is what some call The New Weird. 

The term evokes the old Weird Tales Magazine, a pulp magazine in which a range of stories appeared  dramatizing uncanny experience, tales of the monstrous, or experiences with the supernatural. There was an easy mixing of genre in this publication with little attention to whether any individual work would have been considered horror, science fiction or fantasy. Some works appearing there would have elements of all three. 

The New Weird seems to me to imply something of an emphasis on the horrific or uncanny, while "slipstream" a similar term that evolved in roughly the same time period, seemed to place something of an emphasis on the science fiction elements of the story. Both terms reflect interests that were self-consciously literary and whose projects tended to dissolve barriers between genre. While based in genre, works of these types often use surreal and anti-real strategies and don't necessarily rely on the storytelling conventions of realistic fiction. 

Bizarro fiction, a literary based movement with a similar orientation against the conventions of realistic storytelling also emerges in roughly the same time period, especially the years 2007-2008 when these terms become more widely discussed.

The most prominent writer described as embodying The New Weird is the English novelist, China Miéville. King Rat, his first novel which takes place in the old school dub step culture of London is the featured work for this week, Three Moments of an Explosion which is a collection of shorter work is a good alternative Another recent novel of hisRailsea, a reimagining of Moby Dick with steam trains and giant moles. Perdido Street Station, a longer novel is considered one of the major works of The New Weird.

In film, The New Weird might in someways be best represented by Mumblegore, an independent horror genre that parallels many of the same production techniques and approaches as Mumblecore films. The production values include micro-budgets, unknown actors and improvised dialogue.

Here's a link to excellent article about Mumblegore and some of its personalities from the LA Weekly.

The movie, Cabin in the Woods, with its over-the-top deployment of every genre element it can muster is this week's featured movie.  V/H/S (2012), an anthology film from several directors associated with the Mumblegore movement, is an interesting alternative choice. The old school weird movie Freaks by Tod Browning is also highly recommended.

There are a number of other books and films listed on the course syllabus for this week that suggest possible new directions for the genre of horror. We will discuss some of those in specific and the future of horror in general when we meet in class.

In the writing assignment for this week I would like you to create a blog post that discusses what you read for the topic of the New Weird and what you think other future trends in the genre of horror might be and why that trend is developing.

This week we are considering the sub-genres of J-Horror and K-horror as well as supernatural tales from South Asian cinema. This is a type of storytelling often with its roots in traditional ghost stories. The novels and films featured this week often embody a sense of the emptiness of contemporary life, representing a world in which the protagonists are having a great deal of trouble finding their place. A sense of existential crisis pervades these stories, a crisis not only shared among the central characters but a crisis in the fabric of the reality they inhabit.

The reading for this week is Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase. This novel is a ghost story in the manner of traditional Japanese ghost stories in which ghosts are material phenomena, real and tangible in this world, not spectral. It's this sort of ghost that inhabits J-horror and is in part developed out of traditional dramatic forms like the puppet theater, or the Noh theater tradition. The style of these traditional types of ghost stories is well represented in the movie, Kwaidan, which we will see a part of during class this week. Alternatively, you may want to read Kwaidan, the collection of traditional ghost stories or read the novel on which the movie Battle Royale is based by Koshun Takami.
Double Page spread from the third volume of the Battle Royale Manga

The featured movie for this week is Audition by Takashi Miike. The violence in this film is very graphic, you might want to consider any of the alternatives listed on the syllabus.

You can see more details on this week's assignment on the assignment page for this week on the syllabus here.

Over the last hundred and fifty years the representation of the vampire has shifted from merciless monster of the evil dead, through suave continental lover, to troubled boyfriend from a dysfunctional family. What makes vampires so sexy? Is it because they want something more than sex? Has the vampire become the representation of a male who really understands women and will listen to what they want? What's with all the high school girl vampires these days? The Vampire seems to have completely evolved into a gender neutral concept.

Reading Assignment: This week's featured novel, Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire, transformed and familiarized the concept of the vampire and radically altered the context of the vampire story. 
If you have read Anne Rice or you wish to sample the vampires of the moment, alternatively, you can try reading Vampire Academy, the first work in two series of books and a recent film based in the vampire world of Richelle Mead. These are the featured works we are discussing this week along with a number of vampire movies.

The contemporary vampire tale has become a means of exploring a relationship with a complex and contradictory character, revitalizing the plot of forbidden love. In your reading for the week what pairs of  ideas or representations does the author place in opposition to one another? Does the author seem to privilege one set of ideas or values over the other? What set of values does the vampire represent? Are those the dominant or privileged ideas advanced in the work? How does the story you read embody larger arguments about values in human society? Does the work seem to express a simple morality on the surface, but a more complex moral environment once one considers the issues at more depth? What values does the work really seem to portray? 

This week's required movie is Only Lovers Left Alive directed by Jim Jarmusch or alternatively, Neil Jordan's Byzantium which we will be seeing a selection from in class. Please check the course resources page and the syllabus for alternative texts. 

If you have not yet created your blog and/or sent me the url for it so I can link it to this course blog, please do so now.

The image above is by Edvard Munch is often called "The Vampire" because of a critic who saw that theme in the work. But Munch's title for the work was "Love and Pain," the woman comforting the man whose head she cradles, not sucking his blood.

This Semester this is a celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Frankenstein at New College and at Ringling with a number of Frankenstein movies being shown on our campus.  Here is a link to the schedule.

Well-respected Fantasy and Childrens/Young Adult Writer, Jane Yolen will be on campus Tuesday, Jan. 23rd. This is a great opportunity to hear an established voice in this genre. You have to get tickets although they are free at this link.

Next week we will talk about J-Horror, the various themes of horror and macabre events that we associate with storytelling from Japan, especially the recent wave of popular horror films. The featured work is a contemporary ghost story by Haruki Murakami, one of Japan's major writers, entitled A Wild Sheep Chase. The recommended alternative choice is Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn. Another possible book to read might be Battle Royale: The Novel by Koushun Takami.
Panels from Joss Whedon's Buffy The Vampire Slayer Comic

The Monster Gazes Into a Pool from Lynd Ward's illustrations for Frankenstein
Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein is a text that is frequently used to start a discussion of speculative fiction. It is often pointed to as the first "science fiction" novel, a category that is invented some hundred years after the novel was published. It is also considered a significant work of "gothic" fiction. The name "Frankenstein" is still associated with the genre of horror as every Halloween, thousands of children quite readily attempt to personify and embody the monster of Mary Shelley's imagination. What better place to start our own perambulation through speculative fiction, so I would like to request that you read as much of the novel as you can before we meet for the first time on Thursday morning.

Reading Assignment: Read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. You can access an electronic version of the text on the course resource page which is linked here and in the box in the upper right of this page. To access the course resources use your Ringling username and password.

In class this week we will discuss Frankenstein, the beginnings of horror fiction, the formulations of the gothic and the nature of the sublime. You may wish to attend class before attempting this week's written assignment.

Writing Assignment: Post a response (approx. 250 - 350 wds.) on your blog page discuss some of the "gothic" aspects of Frankenstein or whatever text you read for this week. If you have read Frankenstein before please choose from among the alternate texts for something to read for this week.

During the semester I will expect you to read at least 7 novels or long reads, this can count as one of them. To see further what is required in this course and what will undertake please click on the link at the right to go to the course syllabus. I will update you during our first class meeting. The general requirement for the class is that you read each week and write about what you have read.

Please bring your notebook computers or tablet to class; they will be used for in-class reading and writing. Your writings will be required to be posted on your own class blog which I will link to this page. You should set up a blog for this class on Blogger or similar blogging network and send me the url for your blog as soon as possible. Remember to include in your email the link to your blog and indicate which course you have signed up for since all my courses have blogs.

Some readings and other materials will be available on the Course Resource Page which is linked to this page in the Course Links box. You will prompted to enter your Ringling username and password to enter the Resource area. You will find a copy of a text of Frankenstein there as well.

You may wish to write about Frankenstein before coming to the first class, but you may wait to do so until you understand more about the course. You can always revise your post at any time. Most students who take this course enjoy the readings and find they can manage the course load within the demands of their schedule.  Individualized reading programs are readily constructed for students who need one.  If you have issues that effect your ability to read or write please talk to me as soon as possible. See you in class..

Dr. Steiling

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