Lincoln Book Festival Goes Gothic

As I have no doubt mentioned before, I grew up in Lincolnshire. Therefore I was very interested to see that the Lincoln Book Festival (25th-30th September, 2017) this year has a Gothic theme, including a Gothic flashfiction competition.

With its endless fens, full of black dogs and will-o’-wisps, Lincolnshire has great potential to be a Gothic setting. Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Old Stories explores some of the more unearthly folklore in these parts and, whilst not purely a Gothic novel, Karen Maitland’s The Owl Killers effectively evokes some of the darker aspects of this landscape.

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CFP: Gothic Style(s), Gothic Substance: Gothic Manchester Festival Conference, MMU, 28 October 2017

Gothic Manchester Festival Conference 2017

Saturday 28 October 2017
Call for Papers
Gothic Style(s), Gothic Substance

After the great success of last year’s Gothic North conference, our attention turns this year to the topic of Gothic Style(s).

At the start of the twenty first century, the Gothic is ubiquitous. Fiction and film, television and graphic novels have not only made the Gothic’s plots and protagonists their own, but have brought Gothic style(s) even more firmly into the mainstream. Victorian Gothic architecture looms large over modern cities such as Manchester, contemporary Goth fashion and music tirelessly reference the mode, and our streets and bars, clubs and homes have generated new Gothic styles of their own.
But is there substance to the Gothic’s many styles? Does the Gothic continue to reveal the great unspoken truths of our world? Did it ever? Is the Gothic anything more than a commercial product that may be sold, as a recognisable style, to a new generation of consumers? Was it ever thus? What cultural functions do Gothic styles serve? And how have these evolved from the Enlightenment to the neoliberal present?
This one-day conference invites abstracts for papers of 20 minutes on any aspect of Gothic style(s) and / or substance. As such, topics may include, but are most certainly not limited to:

• Literary, Filmic and Popular-Cultural Stylistics – ‘authentic’ Gothic or merely stylistic flourish?
• The Gothic styles of art and architecture
• Gothic fashion – from subculture to haute couture
• The histories of Gothic styles
• Goth-style music, clubs and clubbers
• The singularity (or otherwise) of Gothic style
• The popular perception of Goth(ic) style – from Halloween dress-up to hate crime.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to Dr Linnie Blake, Head of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, by 1 August 2017.

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Images of Witches

Some excellent articles on witches today. First, Chloe Buckley, in ‘Hag, temptress or feminist icon? The witch in popular culture‘, looks at images of witches in popular culture, both positive and disparaging. She notes the contemporary feminist rehabilitation of the witch, as in Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, alongside more ambivalent figures, including those in folk horror such as The Wicker Man and (more recently) The Witch, and traces the origins of the malevolent witch figure to antiquity. Sam’s favourite witch, Samantha from Bewitched gets a mention! 

Next, Jon Crabb’s ‘Woodcuts and Witches‘ shows how one mass medium of Early Modern Europe–the woodcut–helped instantiate the stereotypes of witches that we are familiar with, illustrated with some fine examples.

And Jennifer Richards, in ‘#Coven: The Season of the Witch‘, shows another interaction between the witch and popular culture through the use of witchcraft iconography in fashion (The Wicker Man appears again here).

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Top 21st Century Werewolf Narratives

A discussion with Sam about what I thought were the most important werewolf texts of the 21st century led me to compile the following. It was surprisingly difficult. Firstly, there is an absolute glut of werewolves popping up in all sorts of texts. With this in mind, I set myself the following parameters: the series had to centre on werewolf characters or at least the werewolves had to be the central character. This rules out Harry Potter’s Remus Lupin and the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries by Charlaine Harris. Secondly, the series had to start in the 21st century. (Sorry Oz, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered in the late 90s). And, finally, they had to be were-wolves as the central character rather than were-other animals. Thus Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson did not count as she is a were-coyote.

Beyond that I was free to choose what I want. Of course, this list will be coloured by my own personal opinions (for example: I’ve included the 21st century texts that I wrote about in my thesis), and my reasons may not resonate with other people.


Ginger Snaps (2000)

Even outside of the 21st century, Ginger Snaps is one of the best werewolf narratives. Playing on the paucity of female werewolves – I like to think Ginger’s white pelt is homage to Clemence Housman’s The Were-Wolf (1890) – this film deals with teen angst from a young woman’s point of view, albeit with less moping and more ripping people to shreds. Although the film aligns menstruation and lycanthropy it does so without reductively presenting women as evil. Thus it reacts to previous depictions of female werewolves that suggest the cruelty of women is an apriori state and lycanthropy simply allows the beast to emerge.


Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow (2008)

Although the werewolf has been immortalised in song a number of times, there are not that many werewolf poems. (For those interested, I recommend ‘Ballad of the Werewolf’ by Rosamund Marriot Watson [1891]). Barlow’s book is written in free verse. Its eloquence and harsh, jagged beauty lends itself to the subject matter – indeed, it goes some way to answering the difficult question of how we represent non-human subjectivity in written form. Set in the darkened corners of Los Angeles where the lost gather, the novel plays with the overlap between packs and gangs, tying in themes of drug culture, homelessness, and stray dogs. In doing so it illustrates the appeal of losing both your human and your individual identity to become part of a family of hybrid creatures.


‘Howl’, Florence and the Machine (2009)

There have been one or two stand out songs about werewolves in the 21st century – ‘She Wolf’ (2009) by Shakira and ‘Howl’ (2015) by Laura Marling, in particular. However, Florence and the Machine’s interpretation of this monster is particularly appealing. Florence Welch’s voice has a visceral emotion in it that perfectly vocalises her pain and desire. The imagery in this song evokes the violence that has been central to the figure of the werewolf, dripping in blood and gore. Welch imagines ripping out her lover’s heart in an act of obsessive love having chased him through the forest.


The Last Werewolf series, Glen Duncan (2011-2014)

Glen Duncan’s novels are clever. His werewolves are knowing and self-aware, and the narrative is interwoven with references to lycanthropes throughout history. I am a little delicate about using the term ‘postmodern’ to describe this series as this can sometimes suggest an author who is more concerned with the style rather than the central characters. However, Duncan manages to acknowledge and react to stereotypes within this genre whilst still making the characters appealing – despite the fact they would happily, indeed pleasurably, kill a human come the full moon. The skill of this series is that it makes the werewolf sympathetic without removing its innate monstrosity. Written in first-person, the reader is forced to take part in the act of killing a human and yet it is the human werewolf hunters who are shown to be the most monstrous characters.


Wolves of Mercy Falls series, Maggie Stiefvater (2010-2014)

It would be impossible to mention the changing form of the werewolf without thinking about the impact of YA literature. Meyer, of course, (in)famously pitted vampires against “werewolves” in the Twilight series, and the world was split between Team Edward and Team Jacob. YA literature helped to make lycanthropes lovers not ravenous beasts. The Wolves of Mercy Falls novels by Maggie Stiefvater features a love affair beyond species boundaries. What makes Stiefvater’s novels notable is the lyrical intensity of her writing. The relationship between the two lovers is believable and the texts explore the beauty of language. At its core, it’s a love story but, with the addition of the supernatural, it’s also about the power of choice and the possibilities of adolescence.


Dog Soldiers (2002)

This is just a thoroughly good, scary and fun werewolf film. Unfortunately, werewolf films are often disappointing. In comparison, this is a masterclass in werewolf films. The basic premise is werewolves versus soldiers. However, the narrative eschews obvious displays of masculinity and a banal exploration of ‘the beast within’. Instead, at the centre of the forest is not a wilderness but a home under siege in an increasingly claustrophobic manner. The film makes excellent use of the Scottish landscape and has a satisfying twist at the end. It also taught me that you can stick cuts together with super glue (or nail glue, at a pinch).


Teen Wolf (2011-)

The original Teen Wolf (1985) may be regarded as a classic piece of nostalgia but it’s a little before my time. It also bears all the hallmarks of 80s horror films – namely sexism and homophobia. (At one point Scott’s best friend from the original film announces that he better not be about to come out preferring to be friends with a werewolf than a gay man). The 21st century television series bears all the hallmarks of millennial lip-service to diversity. So, no, it’s not perfect, but it is interesting to compare it to the original to see how mutable the werewolf can be. Often stereotyped as regressive, the contemporary werewolf can be a force for change. Also, well done for engineering the Beast of Gévaudan into the story line.


Wolfblood (2012-2017)

While the importance of the YA genre in redeeming the monster has been analysed, children’s literature tends to be overlooked. Aimed at a slightly younger audience, this series was shown on CBBC. The werewolves were sympathetic, and an intimate connection was drawn between their lycanthropic identity and the landscape. Family and friendship were central to the representation of these werewolves. What I found particularly interesting were the online tie-ins. These included games and short information videos that aimed to demythologise the wolf itself presenting it, like the werewolves in the series, as more sympathetic.


Lonely Werewolf Girl series, Martin Millar (2007-2013)

Like Ginger Snaps, Martin Millar’s novels explore the experience of being a teenage girl through lycanthropy. Kalix is a werewolf who is depressed, addicted to laudanum and suffering from anorexia. This may sound very heavy and a little dark, however, Millar manages to explore this difficult subject matter without allowing it to overcome the narrative. Kalix is not a victim despite her pain and her (human) friends are continually supportive and kind. The novels themselves are effervescent featuring a cast of brilliant and memorable characters. Moreover, these are entirely modern werewolves more than capable of living in central London and starting their own fashion lines and punk bands. In this way, Millar brings the werewolf in the 21st century with resounding success.


Red Moon, Benjamin Percy (2008)

This is an incredibly difficult book. It imagines an alternative world, not too dissimilar to our own, in which lycanthropes are hunted down until they resort to terrorism. It’s dark and political and dystopian. Benjamin Percy mixes personal story lines with overarching narratives to create a deeply uncomfortable vision of the future. The themes feel 21st century – 9/11 haunts our subconscious informing so many of our stories – and the novel uses werewolves as a vehicle to explore these concerns in a way that feels unforced. Percy’s text show that werewolves remain a central monster in the canon, transforming to meet the needs of the author and the reader.


What do you think? I’d love to hear whether you agree in the comments section. Am I missing one of you absolute favourite texts? Are any of the above too terrible for words?

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Why Would Anyone Be A Goth?

I’m posting a link to this BBC World Service Programme on gothic subculture for our Generation Dead: Young Adult Fiction and the Gothic students as it looks very pertinent to the debates we’ll be having next year particularly around difference, Sophie Lancaster and hate crime. It features Catherine Spooner on being drawn to all things goth.

Goths: The Why Factor

Why would anyone be a goth? What is the appeal of this dark and spooky subculture that embraces death, pain and sadness? Goths have been attacked, abused and are often misunderstood, but still choose to stand out – dramatically – from the crowd.

Catherine Carr talks to goths about their music, their dress and their love of the darker side of life. Why has this scene that began in the UK in the late 1970s and has spread worldwide, adapted and endured?

She hears from gothic vlogger, Black Friday, about how others react to her striking style and that of her goth husband, Matthius; she learns from Dr Catherine Spooner of Lancaster University about the role and influence of gothic literature in the goth scene and finds out from Professor Isabella Van Elferen of Kingston University, London about the transcendental power of goth music. Catherine talks to gothic blogger, La Carmina, about the extraordinary and extreme goth scene in Japan that includes body modifications; Dr Paul Hodkinson of Surrey University explains the enduring appeal of the subculture and why once a goth, you’re always a goth. And she meets Sylvia Lancaster, whose daughter Sophie, a goth, was murdered because of the way she looked.

Presenter: Catherine Carr
Producer: Sally Abrahams


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Fairy Tales and Medieval Latin Literature

There’s a new book from the University of Michigan Press by Jan M. Ziolkowski, Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies which traces the connections between the classic tales of Grimm, Andersen, and so on, and both medieval Latin texts and their oral contemporaries.

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Art project: Martin O’Brien: For The Dead Travel Fast

A great opportunity here for artists who have Undead affinities with Martin O’Brien and the For The Dead Travel Fast project, with funded workshops and visits to Dracula-related sites in Whitby and Transylvania.

This project will take 5 artists on a journey into the heart of darkness by following in the footsteps of Dracula. The project is aimed at artists whose practice is concerned with death, pain, horror, flesh-eating or the undead. We will become undead tourists as we make a pilgrimage to sites associated with the myth of Dracula. It will take place over 3 workshops: workshop 1 will be a weekend research visit to Whitby (accommodation provided) where we will take part in Dracula tours and get to know each other. Workshop 2 will be a 4 day research trip to Wallachia and Transylvania, Romania, (flights and accommodation provided) where we will visit Dracula’s castle, birthplace, and tomb. We will be based in Bucharest and take coach trips to the sites. Workshop 3 will take place over 12 hours through the night in London, bringing together and reflecting on the research.

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The Postmillennial Vampire

Congratulations to Dr Sue Chaplin of Leeds Beckett University on her new book, The Postmillennial Vampire: Power, Sacrifice and Simulation in True Blood, Twilight and Other Contemporary Narratives, out now from Palgrave Macmillan. This book explores the contemporary figure of the vampire in the light of law and the idea of ‘sacred violence’ as expounded by René Girard. There are few monographs which have engaged with the vampire in its more recent incarnations and this looks innovative and essential.

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White Wolves in and out of the Academy

OGOM is keeping track of wolf related stories ahead of the Being Human Festival in November. I posted earlier that May is the month of the wolf and Dr Catherine Spooner, a plenary at the now legendary Company of Wolves conference  and contributor to the OGOM’s forthcoming book The Company of Wolves: Werewolves, Wolves, and Wild Children – Narratives of Sociality and Animality is giving a talk at London College of Fashion on 22nd of this month entitled ‘Wearing the wolf: fur, fashion and species transvestism’. The talk begins at 6.00 pm and is free but you must book via the event site here 

I have some sad news to add to this unfortunately the BBC have reported that a mature female white wolf has been shot in Yellowstone prompting a 3,500 dollar reward. I have written about my own encounter with Lincoln’s white wolves previously on the blog (see my photo above) and Catherine’s essay for the book has many insights into the symbolism of the white wolf. I learnt recently that Freud’s ‘wolf man’ dreamt only of white wolves (see below). You can see my comments on an exhibition which featured his famous paintings here. 

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Fairy Tale Pathology

To my mind, this advice by Sandhya Raghavan on ‘6 famous fairy tales you should never let your child read‘ seems like parody; these readings, if serious, are reductive, mechanistic, and unimaginative. Yet the alleged harmful effects of fairy tales have been discussed, by both conservatives and progressives, going back at least to the eighteenth-century.

In fact, fiction itself has always come under suspicion, but that which partakes of the irrational and anti-realist particularly, as does that intended for children (perhaps understandably). But the explicit lawlessness, violence, and sexuality of the unexpurgated fairy tale attracts more attention than most other genres (which is why fairy tales become expurgated–or rewritten–in the first place).

Today, they are more likely to offend liberal mores, or, as with Disney’s sweetened versions, come under attack precisely because of that expurgation. It’s an interesting topic, one which raises ideas about autonomy and the interpretive freedom of the reader; I leave it here for discussion.

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