Selected Abstracts

Conference Papers

Title ‘Will the real monster please stand up?: Fear in the age of the sparkly vampire’

Conference Reimagining the Gothic: Monsters and Monstrosities – University of Sheffield – May 2016

Abstract The rise of the sympathetic vampire is not a particularly new topic, either in fiction or in criticism. Supernatural romance and young adult literature are awash with lovers in the Gothic tradition of the dark, brooding vampire hero. With this development, both creators and critics have raised the question of whether vampires lost their bite. Stephanie Mayer’s much maligned Twilight novels offer an easy target, and the sparkly vampire is often seen evidence as the ultimate degeneration of the monster. Given that vampires reflect the fears and anxieties of the societies that create them, this supposed defanging of today’s vampire seemingly shows that we no longer fear the vampire. However, as this paper will show, the contemporary vampire is neither a poor imitation of its disturbing ancestor nor an impotent, empty metaphor. By examining the trend in contemporary vampire literature and film of the pathologization of the vampire and the growth in contagion metaphors, such as in I Am Legend (2007), Daybreakers (2009) or Underworld: Awakening (2012), where vampirism is characterised as a virus that can be passed on and on sometimes cured, this paper will argue that we still fear these reimagined gothic monsters.

 

Title Wicked Girls: Oz as Asylum/Asylum as OZ

Conference ‘Asylums, Pathologies and the Themes of Madness: Patrick McGrath and His Gothic Contemporaries’ – University of Stirling – January 2015

Abstract

Dorothy just wanted something that she could believe in,
A gray dustbowl girl in a life she was better off leavin’.
She made her escape, went from gray into green,
And she could have got clear, and she could have got clean,
But she chose to be good and go back to the gray Kansas sky
Where color’s a fable and freedom’s a fairy tale lie.
(Wicked Girls, Seanan McGuire)

While the connection between female adolescence, madness and the asylum more readily brings to mind some of the more gothic adaptations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Walter Murch’s darkly gothic 1989 fantasy film Return to Oz demonstrates that Oz is an equally potent gothic space in which to explore these issues. Playing on the shift in the representation of Oz from a lived experience in L. Frank Baum’s children’s book to the dreamed experience of MGM’s Technicolor musical, Murch’s darker version of the story sees Dorothy back on the farm in Kansas dealing with the emotional and physical effects of the tornado that took her on a wonderful adventure and destroyed her home. Her insistence on the existence of Oz as a “real live place” sits in direct opposition to the views of those around her, leading to her being sent to an institution for electro shock treatment. However, as with its MGM predecessor, Return to Oz continually undermines the depiction of Oz as reality by using the same actors to play roles in both Kansas and Oz.
Since then many a female heroine has had to confront the possibility that her perceived agency and power is in fact a delusion, and her residence in the asylum as reality. By framing this choice as one between acceptable domestic femininity (sanity) and powerful female agency (madness) as in Seanan McGuire’s Wicked Girls, we can see how this device is used to strip seemingly powerful female characters of their agency and independence. Each heroine is confronted with the choice to accept that the reality where she is a free and powerful agent is a delusion, or give in to the madness.
In contrast, Robin Wasserman’s ‘One Flew Over the Rainbow’ offers a construction of the asylum as Oz. Here Oz is where one is exiled when one is “broken” rather than a delusion one escapes into. Dorothy is not the narrative focus in Wasserman’s re-imagining, however her arrival is still is the catalyst that drives the action as in other versions of the narrative. It is in fact the arrival of a mostly sane, if somewhat troubled, Dorothy into this Oz that causes cataclysmic damage to the existing inhabitants and their possibility of mental recovery. Tin-Girl’s choice to stay in Oz once Dorothy escapes back to the outside world, despite the potential for freedom, suggests that choosing Oz always mean choosing madness.
By examining the different depictions of the gothic space of the asylum as Oz and vice versa, this paper proposes to explore the relationship between madness and female agency as the only real option for these wicked girls.

 

Title Little Monsters: Hybrid offspring in steampunk and contemporary gothic texts

Conference ‘The Company of Wolves’: Sociality, Animality, and Subjectivity in Literary and Cultural Narratives—Werewolves, Shapeshifters, and Feral Humans – University of Hertfordshire – September 2015

Abstract In Stephanie Meyer’s much maligned Twilight novels, the monstrous pregnancy and horrific birth of Bella and Edward’s hybrid daughter leaves a particularly grotesque lasting impression on the reader. While critical discussion around Bella’s pregnancy often focuses on her choice to continue to term despite  the  prospect  of  almost  certain  death,  the  surrounding  rhetoric  of  the  child  as  an abomination and a danger to both the werewolf and vampire communities is rarely questioned. Renesme’s hyper-monstrosity and characterisation as the monster that all other monsters fear drives the action in the final novel, bringing the series to its conclusion.

The figure of the hybrid offers a monstrous liminality that is configured as incredibly dangerous to the social order in their respective settings. All of the hybrid offspring in the texts considered in this paper are hunted by the ‘pure breed’ communities that vilify them as abominations. These hybrids draw attention to the constructed nature community boundaries, like those between the human and the monster, or between different monstrous communities such as the werewolf and the vampire. Their very existence proves that there are more similarities than there are differences among the supernatural communities.

These little monsters represent a  threat  to  the  established social  order of the supernatural communities in which they reside. In this paper I will trace the evolution of the hybrid offspring in the novels of Stephanie Meyer, Kate Locke, Gail Carriger and Samantha Young, as well as the Underworld series of films. By exploring the creation of this liminal figure in these novels and films, I intend to show how the hybrid represents an evolutionary leap forwards that challenges the stasis of class and social structure. Rather than the perceived degeneration of the community, the hybrid offers a way forward through cohesion and renewal.

Title There’s No Place like Oz: Oz Reimagined On Screen And Off

Conference Locating Fantastika: An Interdisciplinary Conference – University of Lancaster – July 2015

Abstract In the introduction to their short story collection Oz Reimagined, John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen identify L Frank Baum’s Oz as ‘one of the greatest fantasies of our time.’ Oz Reimagined collates stories inspired by L. Frank Baum’s series of children’s books. First published in 1900, Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz spawned thirteen sequels of his own and countless literary and film adaptations. This recent collection of short stories features work from some of the most recognisable names in fantasy fiction and is evidence of the versatility and power of this fantastical land.

Tad Williams’ Oz is a corrupted computer simulation, while Robin Wasserman’s Oz is the psych ward of a mental institution. Rachel Swirsky offers us Oz as reality TV show, whereas Orson Scott Card’s reimaging urges us to look out of the corner of our eyes to reveal Oz lurking behind the ordinary world on Aberdeen, Dakota in 1889. Beyond this recent short story collection, we have the SyFy channel’s mini-series Tin Man where we find our Dorothy in the Outer Zone, or the 1978 musical The Wiz where Oz is a recognisable, if stylised, New York City. And the terrifyingly gothic Return to Oz where Fairzua Balk’s Dorothy is chased around a crumbling Emerald City by creatures called Wheelers.

Each and every version presents the reader with a different Dorothy, a different yellow brick road, a different Oz. And yet, each one remains palpably recognisable as Oz. In this paper, I intend to explore these different Oz’ in order to discover what it is about this fantastic location that proves to be such a fertile space for our imaginations.

Title Through the Looking Glass: Adaptation as Mirror in Contemporary Fairy Tales

Conference Wonderlands PGR Symposium – University of Chichester – May 2015

Abstract Popular culture remains hungry for adaptation, particularly in the related genres of fairy tale and fantasy. As this trend continues the ways in which retellings are constructed becomes more complex. With Disney’s fairy tale adaptation monopoly waning, there is a discernable rise in retellings that explore radical narrative possibilities, such as reclaiming the origin stories of evil characters. Such is the appetite for these new perspectives, Disney itself is re-writing its own canon with the release of Maleficent and the announcement of two live action versions of its animated classics Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.

It could be argued that the driving force behind Disney’s participation in this trend is purely financial. It is difficult to ignore the success of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and its effect on audience expectations regarding characters who had previously inhabited the position of evil or monstrous.

Regardless of the motivations for such adaptations, what remains of greater importance is what this trend in narrative retellings reveals about the nature of adaptation itself, and why it continues to hold such appeal. Jack Zipes famously suggests that fairy tales are a radical mirror for society: a discussion that evokes a powerful image from those fairy tales themselves. This paper proposes to approach the fairy tale as mirror idea presented by Zipes from a different perspective. It will explore how adaptation itself functions as a mirror in the process of repetition and reflection which is an inherent part of retelling. By focusing on contemporary versions of familiar fairy tales and the multiple mirror images of characters and wonderlands that such adaptations generate, this discussion seeks to consider just how and why fairy tales remain such an integral part of our literary culture.

Title New Wine in Old Bottles: Creating New Myth from Old in Gregory Maguire’s The Wicked Years

Conference The Wizard of Oz and the Cultural Imagination – University of Brighton – November 2014

AbstractThe re-telling and even more so the re-writing of myths is prevalent in contemporary literature and the prominence of novels spanning various genres and styles is a testament to the sticking power of re-worked myths. Gregory Maguire’s novels show an enthusiastic and determined commitment to the re-writing, revision and appropriation of mythic narratives for a contemporary audience. Maguire’s writings are more than simply evidence for the popularisation of existing myth in contemporary culture. Rather, through the reconfiguration of familiar narratives, Maguire is in fact creating myth. The critically responsive act of revision employed by Maguire so reconstructs a myth as to make it a new myth. This process of creating new myth is most notable in Maguire’s reworking of the myth of Oz in his The Wicked Years series of contemporary fantasy novels.

Which version of the world of Oz one is most familiar with can be seen as a generational marker. The original story has undergone the process of adaptation and appropriation through various different mediums, and with each transformation the story takes on a different cultural resonance in society. With each of these transformations the perception of the ‘true’ Oz changes, for each transformation focuses on a different aspect of the Oz narratives.

Examining the evolution of the myth of Oz from L. Frank Baum’s children’s stories, through the iconic MGM musical, Maguire’s novels all the way to the Broadway musical adaptation reveals a great deal about the way myths function in contemporary culture. This paper proposes to explore the adaptation and appropriation of the existing Oz myths into Maguire’s new Oz myth by close reference to the changes that the different narratives perform through this evolution.

Title Memory, Narrative and Constructions of the Self: Locating the Gothic in Gregory Maguire’s Lost

Conference Locating the Gothic Conference And Festival – Limerick – October 2014

Abstract Identified as somewhat of an anomaly in his oeuvre, the dark and oppressive atmosphere of Lost stands in stark contrast to his fairy tale retellings. Unlike his other adult novels his other adult novels, Lost is set neither in the distant past populated by dwarves and imps, nor in the other-world of Oz. Instead Lost is set in the real world, and appears to be Maguire’s only work of mimetic fiction. It is this artifice of reality which moves Maguire’s writing from the familiar genre of fantasy into the unsettling confines of the gothic.

In twentieth century London, American protagonist Winifred Rudge faces a missing host, ghosts in the chimney stack and writer’s block to boot. A writer of children’s stories and one supernatural self-help guide, Winnie sets off for London to her ancestral home, a great Georgian house in Hampstead to research and write her first adult fiction novel. Once whole, the house has been segregated off from itself into separate apartments, and the house renovations that Winnie arrives to set off a disturbing knocking in the newly exposed chimney of the house. As the tale unfolds and Winnie’s mental health deteriorates her first person narration begins to be interrupted by another first person narrative – that of Winnie’s character and pseudonym Wendy Pritsky. The interruptions reveal a counter narrative and as the tale moves closer and closer to the climax Winnie eventually loses her self altogether and becomes possessed by the ghost.

In this paper I shall explore the ways that this style of narration work with the themes of memory and the fracturing of the self through the character of Winnie in order to locate the gothic in the modern writer.