Haunted Landscapes Conference: Sam George Keynote ‘This Spectred Isle: Werewolves and the English Eerie in Contemporary UK Myth’, 6 July 2023

Delighted to reveal that I have been invited to give a keynote at Haunted Landscapes: Nature, Super-Nature, and Global Environments Conference: Falmouth University, 4-6 July 2023. The event is produced in Association with Falmouth University’s Dark Economies Research Group. I am looking forward to meeting everyone and hope to see some of our OGOM followers there! If you haven’t caught up with this event yet you will find below the details of the conference and an abstract of my plenary talk.

Conference summary

Literature, art, and film have always explored concepts of the supernatural and the landscape and environment – places and spaces haunted by spectres, memory, or history. Landscapes can be haunted by echoes and memories of colonization, violence done, and irrevocable acts committed. Places may be marked indelibly by the past and by the people who populated and shaped the environment in an infinite variety of ways. Layers of memory and action can be embedded in the landscape alongside the layering of history in stone and soil. Encounters with the landscape reverberate through the ages as well as through the rocks, trees, hills, and streams that are still present today. Ghosts can shade the atmosphere of a place and some things never leave. The environment bears witness as places across the globe bear the brunt of human action. This conference will explore haunted landscapes of all sorts – from environments teetering on collapse due to climate emergency, to landscapes steeped in blood, dripping in nostalgia, or haunted by spectral memories or supernatural entities.

Programme Link

Keynote Abstract:

Sam George, ‘This Spectred Isle: Werewolves and the English Eerie in Contemporary UK Myth

British folklore is unique in representing a history of werewolf sightings in places in Britain where there were once wolves. UK werewolves differ from their European counterparts in that they often inhabit haunted landscapes, manifesting as wolf phantoms. In this paper, I interrogate the werewolf as spectre wolf, bringing it within the realms of the weird and the eerie, erupting from the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. I depart from studies which tie the werewolf to the ‘beast within’, positing a theory of unsettlement, deriving from landscape and absence in the present.  

The English eerie, or the ‘skull beneath the skin of the countryside’ (Macfarlane), is characterised by a landscape constituted by uncanny forces, part-buried memories and contested knowledge. This is the climate in which the spectre of the UK werewolf has re-emerged (rising from the ashes of the last flesh and blood wolf). In examining werewolf hauntings in contemporary UK myth, I put forward the suggestion that these spectres go beyond our belief in phantoms, they represent our collective guilt at the extinction of an entire indigenous species of wolf. Viewed in this way, they reawaken the memory of what humans did to wolves, redeeming the Big Bad Wolf of our childhood nightmares.

Biog

Sam George is Associate Professor in Research and the Convenor of the popular Open Graves, Open Minds Project at the University of Hertfordshire. She is affectionately known on social media as The Coffin Boffin (@DrSamGeorge1 30K followers). Inspired by the eighteenth-century botanist Tournefort, who voyaged in search of plants and found instead a plague of vampires on the island of Mykonos (1702), Sam George’s natural history research has taken a gothic turn. Following the publication of Botany, Sexuality and Women’s Writing (2007), her contribution to New York Botanical Garden’s Poetic Botany exhibition and the co-editorship of Women and Botany (2011); she founded with Dr Bill Hughes the gothic research group Open Graves, Open Minds. She now researches botany alongside the gothic, unearthing depictions of the vampire and the undead in literature, art, and other media, embracing werewolves (and representations of wolves and wild children), dark fairies, and other supernatural beings and their worlds.

Following OGOM’s international conference on vampires in 2010, Sam developed the first postgraduate module on vampire studies in the UK, exciting the interest of the national and international press. She is now a leading spokesperson for the literary vampire. Her interviews have appeared in newspapers from The Guardian and The Independent to The Sydney Morning Herald, The South China Post, and the Wall Street Journal. She recently recorded an obituary of Gothic writer Anne Rice for BBC Radio 4’s The Last Word and appeared on an episode of BBC 3’s Freethinking on ‘Varney the Vampire’. She was also a guest on In Our Time on BBC Radio 4 with Melvyn Bragg (on John Polidori’s Vampyre). She’s a regular contributor to The Conversation, amassing over 300K reads for her articles on vampires, werewolves and fairies.

Her work with OGOM has led to a number of co-edited publications with Dr Bill Hughes: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day (2012); In the Company of Wolves: Werewolves, Wolves and Wild Children (2020: out in paper this July); The Legacy of John William Polidori: The Romantic Vampire and its Progeny (forthcoming 2024) and the in progress collection ‘Ill met by moonlight’: Gothic Encounters with Enchantment and the Faerie Realm in Literature and Culture. Sam also co-edited the first ever issue of Gothic Studies on ‘Vampires’ with Bill Hughes in 2013 (15.1) and ‘Werewolves’ in 2019 (21.1).

Having written on British werewolves in the journal of Gothic Studies and Japanese mermaids in the Critical Quarterly (the journal’s most downloaded article), she is focussing her new research on the intersection between folklore and the gothic. She is completing a monograph on the folklore and cultural history of the shadow; planning Gothic Fairies: A History for Bloomsbury and editing The Cambridge Companion to the Vampire.

Elsewhere she is leading an impact case study on ethical gothic. Shifting away from horror, the ethical gothic seeks to cultivate a sense of moral agency, employing gothic narratives to create empathy for the marginalised, monstrous or othered, including the natural world. She has increased public awareness of how Gothic narratives can challenge perceptions of otherness and difference, helping to combat prejudice and hate crime through her work with the Sophie Lancaster Foundation and used her research into folklore and myth to promote ecological conservation, working with the UK Wolf Conservation Trust to help inform public perceptions of wolves.

She is continuing to host international symposia on vampires, werewolves, dark fairies and with OGOM, researching supernatural beings and their worlds (together with a new strand on botanical gothic). The Project extends to all narratives of the fantastic, the folkloric, and the magical, emphasising that sense of Gothic as enchantment rather than simply horror

About Sam George

Associate Professor of Research, School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire Co-convenor OGOM Project
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