The Female Vampire in Children’s Animation

As an introduction to our new blog series: Children’s Gothic, Stephanie Gallon has provided a detailed look into the female vampire in children’s contemporary media.  Stephanie has recently graduated with an MA in English Studies.

The vampire is a universally recognizable creature, distinguished usually by its pale skin, odd dress and pointed fangs. For many American children, their first vampire is The Count, a character on the popular educational programme Sesame Street. With his Transylvanian accent and memorable laugh, The Count teaches children mathematics. He is a Dracula rip-off meant as an educational tool for the development of a younger audience. Most male vampires are deviated from Dracula; see Young Dracula, Count Duckula as examples.

Children’s television is unique in this manner though; while its primary objective is to entertain, the secondary objective demands education. It teaches children implicitly or explicitly lessons that can be applied to their own lives, whether it be a skill like spelling, or something broader like the value of friendship. It is interesting to see how they handle the vampire with this in mind.

This post will concern itself with the animated female vampire.

The animated vampire is most noticeably unhuman-like in its appearance. This because of the medium they are in, which allows for fantastical character designs that, may be unachievable on a live action budget. The vampire is often characterised with pale or oddly-coloured skin. They dress in eccentric or formal clothing, marking them as older and othered, even in worlds where they are not the only supernatural or strange being. They have fangs that are prominently displayed.

MONA THE VAMPIRE

From 1999-2003, a popular children’s television show was Mona the Vampire. It was based on the short stories of the same name by Sonia Holleyman. Mona is not a true vampire like the other examples. She is a young human girl with a vivid imagination, who imagines herself as a vampire who goes on adventures. The episodes were structured in a formulaic manner: something strange would happen in Mona’s life which she would attribute to some unseen supernatural force. As her vampiric alter-ego, Mona could investigate the odd happenstances in her town. In the end, there was usually a rational, non-supernatural reason for the drama, though some episodes hinted that Mona’s stories had some truth to them.

Despite being human, Mona fits the appearance criteria for a vampire. She has pale skin and dark hair. As a vampire, she has prominent fangs, as does her familiar Fang the cat. Her uniform as the vampire was a white shirt, a bow tie and a floral cape. As part of her vampiric fantasies, she believes she is vulnerable to garlic and other vampire hunting tools. She of course is not.

What others Mona is her creativity. In a world of suburban problems, Mona sees the potential for something more. Here, vampirism is escapism. There is no reason for her to pretend to be a vampire other than a fantasy created by her own imagination.

ADVENTURE TIME

In Adventure Time, a cartoon created by Pendleton Ward, the main vampire character is Marceline, the Vampire Queen. She is an old being, who is half-vampire and half-demon. She is one of the most popular characters in the franchise, and very much an alternative character in the colourful world of Oo. She wears grunge rock clothes and carries a guitar; she sometimes sports a half-shaved head.

Oo as a world is literally Candyland. Anthropomorphic pieces of candy roam the lands, with a monarch of one of the kingdoms being a literal piece of bubblegum. There are other monarchs, almost all princesses, but they are all edible or humorously odd, such as Muscle Princess. Marceline is played as a serious and important character. She is an embodiment of darkness with incredible powers, such as flight and turning in to monsters or a giant bat. She is a powerful and strong character who is drawn and written as different.

Direct sunlight can kill her, but she can avoid that with a large sunhat or parasol. She is not a villain character though. She lives on the border of good and bad, taking glee in mischief but operating on a moral code which puts her loved ones ahead of everything. Perhaps her most interesting attribute is how she eats: Marceline does not need to drink blood. Anything red will do.

Part of what makes Marceline an Other is that she is a queer character. To be specific, she is the ex-girlfriend of Princess Bubblegum. There is coded subtext within the episodes, but official confirmation came from the series creator and Marceline’s voice actress.

Marceline’s vampirism is a celebration of darkness in a bright show. She is not the only dark character, but she is given the most attention and is the only one the series hero calls a friend. She is sensitive, she is talented and she is deep. Her music is melancholic and sincere. Adventure Time is a silly show on its surface, but Marceline is never silly. Everything is played seriously.

MONSTER HIGH

Monster High is a web-series based on the popular doll line by Mattel. Its main cast are a group of teenage girls who happen to be the daughters of famous monster: Frankie Stein is the daughter of Frankenstein, who we assume is the doctor as opposed to his Creature; Clawdeen Wolf is the daughter of the Wolf Man, one of several litters; Cleo de Nile is the daughter of the mummy and a princess; Lagoona Blue is the daughter of the Creature of the Black Lagoon; Ghoulia Yelps is the daughter of a zombie, one of many who crowd the hallways of Monster High.

And of course, there is a vampire amongst them; Draculaura, the daughter of Dracula. Draculaura is 1601 years old, making her only a teenager in vampire years. She is bubbly, enthusiastic and a compulsive trend-follower.

Draculaura’s signature colour is pink. She has pink highlights in her hair, light pink skin, and wears a pink shirt covered in glitter and black lace. Her style is more formal than the clothes her friends wear, similar to the Gothic Lolita style popular in Japan.

What is interesting is that while Draculaura is a main character, she is not the protagonist. Often in these monster mash TV shows, the vampire is the protagonist. In the 1980’s paranormal classic Monster Squad, Dracula is the main antagonist. More recently in the animated children’s film Hotel Transylvania, the main story follows Dracula in his hotel. Even Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows is remembered predominantly for its Barnabas the vampire storylines. Not only this, but in media for young girls, the pink character is usually the main character—think Blossom in Power Puff Girls or Apple White in Monster High’s sister series Ever After High. Despite all this, Frankie is the protagonist who acts as a stand-in for the audience—someone new to this world, just as we are.

Perhaps the only drawback to Draculaura is her primary concern in life: she cannot see her own reflection, so she’s never sure how she looks. Her vanity and self-image issues are not a healthy message, but she is not the only character concerned with fashion. The series is, ultimately, about dolls and the many accessories that come with them.

Draculaura is not the only vampire in the series. In the season 2 TV special Fright On, we’re introduced to an all-vampires school called Belfry Prep, which had previously been alluded to. The vampires from this school are more aristocratic with preppy clothes, though they dress exclusively in black and red. They are more similar to a Twilight-type vampire, with similar hair and a hatred of werewolves. Draculaura exists as the typical good vampire—accepting, friendly and strictly vegetarian. She even dates Clawd wolf, the casketball star and her friend Clawdeen’s brother, proving she is more accepting that the other vampires.

Here, vampirism is made acceptable by alienating bad attributes. It offers bad vampires to play the villains, acting in the same capacity as the Twilight villains. She is made palatable by dressing her in harmless pink and hearts, and making her weak at the sight of blood. With her fainting, old-fashioned clothing and strong, supernatural boyfriend, Draculaura fulfills the role of Gothic heroine in a paranormal romance than she does the femme fatale we’ve come to associate with vampire women.

CONCLUSION

There are overarching themes in creating animated vampire women, but a common theme has emerged: they are always the Other, even in worlds where they are not the only one. Whether they are young girls with over-active imaginations, the shadow in a world of light, or the sensitive every-girl surrounded by cold others, these women are Others of their respective worlds. That they are vampires seems pure incidental, a sure-fire shortcut for conveying that these creatures of darkness are not like the others.

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“Checking In” On Fear

In conjunction with American Horror Story Tuesdays, Connor Taylor is writing a four-part review of individual episodes from the fifth season. He will discuss their relation to different aspects of fear. This first review discusses the pilot episode: Checking In. Connor is a second year English and Creative Writing student.

If you have not checked in already, the new season of American Horror Story has started and once you stay the night you surely won’t regret it.

If you have seen the first episode then you surely recall the appearance of ‘the addiction demon’ which gave us one of the most twisted and uncomfortable scenes we have seen from AHS in a long time. The scene involved the greasy, pale leathery, skin of the faceless demon, a large metal cone strapped to his groin and New Girl’s Max Greenfield (who we can no longer look at in entirely the same way).

Yet what really scared us about this shocking scene?

Everyone has something they fear, something deeper than the rational deterrence from pain and suffering which caused us to turn our head slightly away from the screen.

Autophobia

“The direct fear of abandonment. This can be irrational and possibly extends from the fear of letting others down. This can include a fear of being dismissed, cast out or excluded.”

There have been many studies into the effects of human isolation and the detrimental alterations it causes to the mind. Naturally we begin to function differently when placed in situations which render us incapable of human contact in even the slightest way. In its most minute form, that feeling we get when we’re alone, the one where we feel watched or uncertain, can sprout from the unease of the mind screaming for at least the presence of another.

What does this have to do with AHS though?

Well there were three characters present in the traumatic scene; The Addiction Demon (Alexander Ward) Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) and Gabriel (Max Greenfield).

It’s a common theme among works which sympathise with the immortal or estranged. We of course feel something for Gabriel during the time at which he is bound, it appeals to our need or want to see a dismissal of suffering…
But we do not sympathise with Sally, I hear you say. Are you sure about that? In the last few moments of Greenfield’s on-screen suffering we hear Sally ask for love. She seeks an utterance, a whisper, of affection which will remove from the world the suffering which plagues him. Don’t we all sympathise with wanting at least some affection, recognition, from someone? How long has Sally been alone and seeking such an insatiably need, addiction, for comfort? Is she the demon herself, like two sides of one rusted coin? …

What makes us so scared, so unnerved in the contract between Sally whispering for love, Greenfield’s tears and the macabre encounter happening half in and half out of shot. We want to turn away but we are forced to endure just a little longer and that played quite heavily into the autophobia most of us feel. In both cinema and writing, the sadness that comes from everything and everyone you love being dead is really something which resonates with audiences because it’s the exact opposition to the common family stability. What’s worse is the fear which comes from recognising isolation within yourself and searching outward for affection beyond addiction.

Autophobia aside, what we see is an appeal to one of our most primal fears, pain, and one of our most terrifying aspects, loneliness, conjoined together in a traumatic scene of death, rape, and suffering. Of course it’s made worse by the aesthetics and shock alone (we must not forget that) which at this point have already intrigued and somewhat bored us. As terrifying as it is I don’t think I can take another long hallway shot (even though I know there are many to come). They are meant to make us feel lost, that everything is the same… but it gets very old fast. Lady Gaga is oddly haunting and better within her role than I honestly expected. I thought perhaps it would be a season long advertisement for a new ‘alternative’ or ‘edgy’ album but I am yet to see any of that (although I don’t think I’d like to listen to music inspired by this season’s oddities).

All in all I am intrigued at where this is going. I have watched ahead and am preparing myself for episode four. Of course I am not without questions, questions I am preparing to answer with a look at more fears and perhaps something else too. Who is the strange woman? Why on earth are there vampires in the first place and when will I see more Evan Peters?

How Extreme Isolation Warps the Mind. Michael Bond. 14th May, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140514-how-extreme-isolation-warps-minds

“Checking In”. American Horror Story: Hotel. Ryan Murphy. Fox. October 7, 2015

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A New Species of Jekyll, in ITV’s Jekyll and Hyde

As part of our Halloween Month, Janet Cooper reviews the first episode of new ITV period drama series, Jekyll and Hyde.  Janet is an MA English Studies Student and has a particular interest in Gothic Literature, particularly Victorian and Irish literature.

Credit: ITV

Credit: ITV

Sunday meant the arrival of the new Gothic series, Jekyll and Hyde.  I was not entirely sure what to expect and how the series would differ from the original novella, but I wasn’t disappointed.

The original novella was written in 1886, but this series begins 50 years later which takes us into the 1930’s.  The plot twists and demonic terrors kept me on the edge of my seat and I can’t wait for next week’s episode!

Robert Jekyll, travels to London when he is contacted about his possible entitlement to a family fortune.  Jekyll is an interesting yet unnerving character, as in minutes of the episode starting he displays super-human strength and a mysterious dark side.  He lives with his adopted family in Ceylon and is dependent on pills prescribed by his father.

His father supplies him with eight weeks of medication and this suggests that the drug is especially made for Jekyll, and will not be available on his journey.  This fits in well with the scientific element of the novella as Henry Jekyll is a Doctor of Science rather than a medical Doctor.  It is apparent that Robert Jekyll is suppressing an uncontrollable, yet supernatural urge inside of him and this builds up instant tension.  He appears to suffer from a brain imbalance caused through stress and anxiety, and no sooner does he take his pills, the chemical imbalance is restored and the darker side becomes suppressed once more.  The most obvious difference here is the fact that Robert Jekyll is taking the tablets to suppress the entity of Hyde, in comparison to Henry Jekyll in the novella who takes a potion to bring out the entity of Hyde (initially).

Credit: ITV

Credit: ITV

The appearance of Utterson, a lawyer, whose father is also a lawyer in the original version, gave me a comfortable sense of familiarity.  He believes that Robert Jekyll is the son of Louis Hyde, who is thought to be the illegitimate son of Henry Jekyll and therefore his long-lost grandson.  Louis Hyde was renowned for his strength, but he was also thought to be a murderer, like Edward Hyde.  I suspect that the mystery of Robert Jekyll’s birth will unfold in later episodes as we follow his past and present journey of self-discovery.

Strength is an important factor that links these men, as there is little evidence to suggest they are related.  The names Robert Jekyll and Louis Hyde are a delightful dedication to the original author of The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), the talented Robert Louis Stevenson.

The excitement continued throughout the first episode as several undercover agencies are introduced, and are either chasing or employing degenerate and ab-human demonic creatures and some appear animalistic with longer necks, or on all fours.  Some can even shape shift.  Not only does the episode focus on Robert Jekyll as the protagonist, it also incorporated a strong back story of a demonic culture thriving in London.  During the 1930’s in London, a lot of changes occurred as refugees fled to London due to the movement in Germany.  This caused a lot of social and cultural unrest, and tensions were building in the years leading up to World War II as Germany became problematic and a threat to society.

In the meantime, a psychotic man takes a small army of demonic, ninja-like figures to visit the house of Jekyll’s adoptive family in hunt of him. The man himself is ruthless and will stop at nothing.  This small group is possibly a representation of Nazism spreading to London as they set on their hunt for Robert Jekyll.  His purpose is currently a mystery which makes the story much more interesting and another mystery that will unfold.

There is no doubt that the interference of these agencies contribute to Jekyll’s turn to the dark side.  Jekyll’s hotel room is burgled and his pills stolen by MI0 – a government agency that deals with monsters and apparently protects humanity. This type of undercover work fits in well as spies and detective work of all kinds were taking place in London, to prevent the enemy from gaining the upper hand and attacking.  The news arrives of Jekyll’s adoptive family being murdered in Ceylon, and without any pills to treat his condition, Jekyll loses control and is dominated by his very own demon.  Loss is a key trigger and he is left in London, alone, not knowing who, or what he is.  Without his drugs to turn to, he resorts to alcohol.

On his initial arrival in London, Robert Jekyll becomes attracted to, and strikes up a relationship with a girl named, Lily.  He saves her life on their first meeting and when he visits her at home to return her purse, he becomes angry with her elderly mother for being demanding and interrupting their time together.  Jekyll seems to be instantly drawn to Lily and goes out of his way to meet her again.  There is a fine line here between lust and obsession, and I am interested to see how their relationship develops and how he copes with Lily’s mother, and her continual demands and control over Lily.  Is love enough to save Robert Jekyll from a troublesome fate, or is Lily just an obsession, and will the nature of Hyde be too much for Jekyll to suppress on his own?  Only time will tell…

Credit: ITV

Credit: ITV

It’s hard not to pity this monster, as his initial good deed of saving a child in Ceylon has brought him suffering and turmoil.

What do you think of the first episode? Do you find yourself loving or hating Robert Jekyll?  Is society to blame for his behaviour or is he just simply evil?  Is evil in your genes?

So much happening in just one episode means that episode 2 has a lot to live up to next week.   With a new species of Jekyll, I am left wondering what the new species of Hyde has in store for us.

If you didn’t catch the first episode, you can catch up on ITV player and don’t forget to tune in next week on Sunday, ITV, at 6:30pm. 

*The images used in this article are the property of ITV, and permission was kindly given for them to feature in this article.

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Vampires and werewolves and warlocks, oh my…

As part of our Halloween Month, Tegan Stevenson, talks about paranormal romance and provides us with a recommendation of Dragon Bound, the first book in the Elder Races series by Thea Harrison. Tegan is a 3rd year English and Creative Writing Student at The University of Sunderland

Paranormal romance is the mix of the supernatural and the mundane. It is the idea that something more or less than human can have a relationship that transcends their limitations, whether they are social, lifestyle or personal boundaries. It is not always the case in modern fiction as it was in the early days of paranormal literature, such as Dracula by Bram Stoker, that the couples are a mix of creature and human. Often, contemporary writers use a completely supernatural relationship, e.g. a witch and a vampire, to mark the absence of humanity or the prevailing humanity in creatures who are traditionally inhuman.

The attraction to a creature such as a vampire or a werewolf is always up for debate. Is it power, experience or an animalistic nature that makes them so tantalising? There are an endless amount of mythological or legendary creatures to choose from for any writer wishing to break into the paranormal romance genre, but folk history makes some creatures more popular than others for mainstream fiction. Vampires, werewolves or other shapeshifters and magic users have shown an incredible popularity in recent years. For example, the popularity of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series saw an emergence in magic-related fiction.

Much of the contemporary paranormal romance on the market has a preference for female main characters. While the image of the brooding hero has endured, the characterisation of the female lead has changed dramatically over the last couple of centuries. The simpering maiden is no longer the most obvious representation of femininity within the genre. The women often have fighting skills or attitudes to rival the men.

When I’m asked to recommend a book I’m usually struck by the thought, “Which one?” For complex female characters and exquisite worldbuilding I honestly believe that Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series is as good as it gets.

Dragon Bound is the first book in the Elder Races series. It introduces the female lead, Pia Giovanni who is half-human and half-Wyr and finds herself doing a bad job of keeping a low profile. Dragon Bound also introduces Dragos Cuelebre, the most feared and respected of Wyrkind… and he is also a dragon some of the time.

Navigating a world of shapeshifters, vampyres, fae and more, the series is captivating in its storytelling and each book in the series introduces new couples, so it’s always a refreshing read in a familiar world. It is a great commentary on the effect of social power on romantic relationships as many of the characters, both male and female, have professionally dominant working lives.

Any more information about the series and the author can be found here:

http://theaharrison.com/

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Beautiful things are fragile; Female Gothic and Crimson Peak

As part of Halloween month and our Contemporary Media and Gothic series, Stephanie Gallon has done a review on the newly released Gothic horror Crimson Peak. Stephanie recently graduated with an MA in English Studies from the University of Sunderland.

Crimson Peak is a gorgeous and decadent movie which should be on the to-see list of every horror and Gothic fan. What could easily have been a rehash of the same tired clichés—the damsel in distress, the foreboding castle, the patriarchal tyrant—is a marvel of interesting characters and story. It is in many ways a true adaptation of the Female Gothic genre. Be forewarned, there will be spoilers ahead.

It tells the tale of Edith, who marries Sir Thomas and goes with him back to England. There she encounters ghosts, death and fear. The house itself bleeds, breathes and revolts against the sins committed inside it.

Edith is the most interesting character. She is independent and a writer, thrust in to the isolation of marriage and stripped of the agency afforded to her through her creativity. That she is a writer is no small thing: Gothic is the genre of women. Writers such as Anne Rice, Ann Radcliffe and Angela Carter have all influenced the genre and carved within it their own tropes and revolutionary topics. Women would read Gothic openly, whilst men would hide their like for it. Some men would even adopt female pseudonyms to publish their works.

Ann Radcliffe, referred to often as the mother of female Gothic, famously denounced her own works by claiming she was insane when she wrote them. She later claimed to be dead. This was the reputation the Gothic had: it was popular, therefore it was worthless. The women who wasted their time on such dreadful nonsense were ridiculed. Amongst those women, we have Edith. Edith, who is nothing like the proper women portrayed in the movie:

Thomas: You’re so different
Edith: From who?
Thomas: Everyone.

Edith is also given enough character that she doesn’t neatly fit in to the typical Gothic heroine role. She does not throw herself in to danger through stupidity. Instead, she is curious about the strange things that happen in the home. She runs from malicious creatures, but is drawn to the safer ones because her curiosity drives her to. She is a writer and a creative spirit: she believes these things to be true because she makes these things true in her mind.

An interesting and terrible twist on the traditional Gothic formula is the incest. While Gothic fiction has never shied from the perverse of human psyche, it is rare to find the predator as a woman. The sibling incest between Lucille and Thomas is portrayed as twisted, and Lucille manipulates her brother from their childhood:

Lucille: No one must ever know because they wouldn’t understand and they’d hurt us.

Pictured: Jessica Chastain as Lady Lucille

Pictured: Jessica Chastain as Lady Lucille

Thomas has his agency removed from a very young age. This house of horrors is normalised to him because he knows nothing outside his sister’s words. He does not flinch at the vengeful spirits and bleeding walls because he has never known anything different. It is only Edith and the world she weaves for him that gives him an escape, and his chance to make what may be his first free choice: he falls in love with her, and not his sister. His free choices come from the influence of Edith in his life. He is haunted by more than ghosts, and it is when he is able to break free of his sister’s madness that he is given a chance at redemption for the wicked things he has done.

While other horror films are filled with empty tropes and void of genuine world-building and emotion, Crimson Peak found its place as a representation of female Gothic. It’s intense, it’s melodramatic, and it is sincere and respectful Gothic romance. A must-see for anyone who loves Gothicism or horror.

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Sir Walter Scott and his Abbotsford…

With the intention of educating from the very beginning, Steve Watts – Head of the Department of Culture – led a group of English students, in the direction of Sir Walter Scott. On a journey to the Borders their first stop was Dryburgh Abbey, with the intention of paying their respects at the writer’s resting place. Surrounded by architectural beauty, the students captured some of the Scottish history through a lens and Jade Diamond (English Studies MA) used her photography skills to artistically grasp the Gothic feel of the area.

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Laid in the company of his wife Charlotte, son Walter and his biographer and son-in-law John Gibson Lockheart, Scott was certainly entombed in picturesque tranquillity.
Venturing down the steps to the small chapel, the students and academics stood side by side as they smiled for photographer David Newton. In what can only be described as an educational treat, the Abbey proved influential for MA students in their forthcoming first semester.

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On the next leg of the Scottish field trip, the group were taken back in time as they arrived at the grounds of Abbotsford!
It is easy to understand how the house was the source of Scott’s inspiration, as the breath-taking views and gardens became the same tool for the visiting students.

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When entering the home of Sir Walter Scott, you are struck by the collection of artefacts that the writer was known to hoard. From the skull of King Robert the Bruce, to the number of gargoyles positioned to ward off evil spirits. However, when moving through the home to the library, a centre table with glass top encased objects that will fascinate anyone. A tumbler, said to be once owned by Napoleon and the cross held by Mary Queen of Scott’s during her execution. Obviously, we’ll never know for certain if this is actually the case, but to see the history stored within Abbotsford, we can only wonder.

To anyone with a love of literature, it would be hard to not fall in love with the beautiful library. Some books – over two hundred years old – capture the ambience of what Scott would have experienced on a day-to-day basis.

Definitely a man with an eye for delights, his heart may have been full of just as much love for when stepping over the threshold you are instantly welcomed into a warm atmosphere.

The home feels full of family love and memories and if you can’t imagine it, you are presented with it when viewing the portraits on the walls.

An amazing array of battle weapons are carefully placed for all to see and you can almost feel the wars they fought.

The dining room table sits perfectly intact and when standing at the far end of the room, the view which overlooks the River Tweed is a picture of beauty. It is no wonder Sir Walter Scott chose that area to take his final rest. According to the venues tour guide Malcolm Morrison; he was surrounded by visitors in his final days, each experiencing the tranquillity of the gardens as they shared in their memories.

The culmination of Scott’s creative contributions remain in Abbotsford, in his study and in his library. Although he left the literary world in the year 1832, Abbotsford House depicts a story only full of life!

You can find the full album of photographs here (x)

-Jade Diamond (English Studies MA) and Jenah Colledge (English Studies MA)

http://roadaheadmedia.com/

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Welcome Back…

After a spellbinding year, we welcome you all back for what we hope to be an exciting new journey for Spectral Visions.  Brimful of Gothic delight, we venture back into the world of darkness.

Sadly, this welcome also comes with a goodbye, as the beautiful and intelligent Stephanie Gallon has passed over the blog torch, as she embarks on the next leg of her educational career.  Let’s do her proud!

The last academic year brought plenty of mystery and mayhem, as we celebrated Burns Night, launched the fantastic Spectral Visions Press and hosted the ever educational annual conference Spectral Visions: Carn-evil.

The press being an extremely important factor, has allowed students and academics to be a part of a professional publishing house.  Thus, giving students employment experience in numerous areas including editing, proof-reading, copy-writing and type-setting.  Students and others, have also had the opportunity to submit creative work which has since been published, and the Spectral Visions: Grim Fairy Tales is now on sale on Amazon UK.  The launch date for this publication is TBA.  This of course would not have been possible, if not for the amazing ideas, hard work, dedication and support of Prof. Colin Younger, Dr Alison Younger, Steve Watts and Prof. Peter Dempsey.

The next publication Spectral Visions: Ghost Stories and Spectral Poems, is currently in progress and submissions are being accepted.  Please find the relevant information under the Spectral Visions: The Collection, tab!

The annual conference – Spectral Visions: Carn-evil – was filled with scream worthy fun.  Balloon popping, sadistic clowns and a terrorising wolf boy, allowed for an educational insight into the world of historical freaks.  Since then, planning for the next conference has been well under way and a photo shoot has already taken place at Newcastles, Castle Keep.  The theme this year is ‘Coven’ and we expect everyone to have their witch hats at the ready!

Finally, please head over to our new sister blog – Spectral Visions: The Creative Journey – and give it a follow.  This blog will keep you entertained with visual insight into the world of Gothic!

Before I finish I would like to say a rather large thank you to David Newton and Grant Humphrey for their amazing photography skills and help. Heather Steinson, my talented and very patient brother Shaun Keegan and Jessica Cartner, for their help in re-launching the SV blog and whilst I found my bearings!

Please stay tuned for further conference and event information, and enjoy the blogs dark delights, in the mean time!

Thank You,

Jenah Colledge

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If You Read No Other Book This Year…

As part of our monthly review, Katie Watson has followed on from her previous article, to discuss Frankenstein from a literary perspective.  Katie is an English Studies MA student who previously graduated with a BA in English and Drama.

What’s in a name? Well, with ‘Frankenstein’ quite a lot, actually. He is often mistakenly both the man and the monster. He is also literally a man and, to some, a monster. Notice my imperative use of the indefinite and definite articles.
Mary Shelley’s (1797-1851) Frankenstein (1818) is, to my remarkably biased self, one of the most complex novels ever constructed, never mind the fact that the author was a teenage girl. I’m certain I spent my teenage years claiming I was ‘misunderstood’ at the bottom of a rather cheap bottle of cider thinking my rebellion niché and sexy. Well Mary Shelley’s rebellion was niche and sexy. Rather than drinking in parks and narrowly escaping the long arm of the law, she eloped to Europe and spent her time discussing higher topics with some of the greatest writers of the 19th century and those who now form part of the canon of Romantic poetry.
It was this elopement with Percy Shelley (1792-1822), himself a published poet, that led to her occupying a certain Swiss villa with a certain group of people on a certain stormy night in June that provoked a certain nightmare… That nightmare transformed itself into the Frankenstein that we know today.
Many people think they know the plot, when indeed they know the plot of one of the many infuriatingly incorrect adaptions of Shelley’s allegorical novel.
First things first, there is no Igor, he simply does not exist. Frankenstein is not the monster, he is the creator, Mr Victor Frankenstein. The monster is mainly referred to as ‘the creature’ and is not a grunting, moaning buffoon who trolls the world, arms extended, searching for his next random victim.
Shelley’s gothic novel tells of a scientist, interested in the essence of life. By exhuming corpses and stealing their body parts, he constructs a creature which he manages to galvanise into existence. We can almost tick off the gothic features used in this novel: the mad scientist with his transcendental experiments, horrific corporeal imagery, a murderous abhuman monster, wild mountainous landscapes, a defiled heroine (Victor’s wife) and the conflux of the scientific and the supernatural.
Horrified at the creature’s ugliness, Frankenstein flees his laboratory, leaving only his notebook behind. This notebook is how the creature learns of his abandoning father. Curious, sensitive and desperate to learn, the creature meets the De Lacey family, the father of which is blind. This man teaches the creature how to read, unaware of his monstrosity. He applies to the blind man for help but his children return to beat and cast out the creature. He faces this wherever he goes. Misunderstood and rejected, he is often seen as a metaphor for the African slave; categorised as dangerous, sexually predatorial, monstrously strong and to be controlled. The abolition of the slave trade was a topic rife in Shelley’s age and often appealed to women as they, too, understood what it felt like to be oppressed at the hand of the European white male.
The paramount thing to take away from this is that the creature is not born evil. He cares for the De Lacey family that reject him, bringing them wood and tending their garden, something they believe to be a miracle, the work of God, yet ironically to them he is demonic.
Unfortunately, the creature goes on to murder William Frankenstein, Victor’s younger brother after he, too, rejects him. It is this that provokes a killing spree in which the creature will do anything to destroy his creator.
The novel can be understood in many different ways, hence it’s complexity. It may be read as a plea for social reform. Shelley inhabited a society which would eagerly dismiss anyone that breached conventions; she herself was outcast after her elopement with Percy Shelley, something she felt strongly upon her return to England. Thus Shelley’s point is that it is not the creature that is innately monstrous, but that society makes the monster. All he seeks is love, respect and companionship. It is almost a warning to society of the dangers of rejecting those who break the norm.
It is also perhaps about the fear of scientific advancement. The age of Enlightenment marginally preceded Shelley’s tale, an age obsessed with science over religion, of rationality and progress. Galvanism was immensely popular, with scientists testing the effect of it on limbs and dead animals. It seems Shelley was wary of where these developments would lead. Frankenstein, rightly subtitled ‘The Modern Prometheus’, is a story of hubris. However, the myth of Prometheus was hailed by Romantic poets as aiding humanity against a tyrannical leader, Zeus, by giving man fire. To many, Prometheus represented a reformer and Zeus, a despotic government. To Shelley, however, the story of Prometheus seemed to mean something very different. The tale of Frankenstein and the protagonist’s poor end suggest that the author was deeply concerned with where science may lead society and the catastrophic outcomes of attaining divine power.
There is so much more to Shelley’s timeless novel than I can cover in one thousand words. It bears traces of the scars left by the French Revolution: that sometimes taking great power can lead to corruption and destruction. It challenges patriarchy in its demonstration of a failing father figure: Victor. Shelley has also, herself, been described as the creature: outcast and rejected by her father after her adolescent adulterous elopement with a then married Mr Percy Shelley.
Shelley wrote with outstanding social and historical awareness and was blessed with two academically brilliant parents. It is not by accident that Frankenstein has, two hundred years on, found itself on the curriculum of countless schools, analysed in almost every field of critical theory and, on a more elementary level, enjoyed as a fantastic piece of literature on a global scale. So please, take my advice: make a cup of tea, sit down and begin one of the greatest books ever written.

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A Gothic Fiction Playlist

Jessica Cartner is a first year BA English student at the University of Sunderland. Her interests in the Gothic are monstrous and the humane, Romantic Gothic and Victorian Gothic.

Hello everyone,

My name is Jessica. The blog admin recently inspired me to create a Gothic fiction playlist, and they provided me with this opportunity to share it with you. The pieces are not ranked, though I tried to arrange their order to make your listening a little more interesting:

Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush

Perhaps a little predictable, but this 1979 number one hit was inspired by Emily Brontë’s Gothic novel of the same name. Bush’s vocals are innocent yet ghostly, and as you sing along, you may just feel like wandering around the Yorkshire moors…

Fade to Grey – Visage

With those budding synthesisers, ethereal French and English vocals, and hypnotic rhythm, this song will haunt you for many weeks to come.

Are Friends Electric? – Tubeway Army

The robotic voice and spooky content of this song is perfect for reading or writing some Gothic science-fiction.

In the Shadows – The Rasmus

The American version of the music video for this song is very interesting, where the lead singer brings a Victorian maid into the 21st century. Out of the shadows, and into the light, you may find yourself singing this at impromptu moments.

Moonlight Sonata – Ludwig van Beethoven

For something slightly more quiet, contemplative and deeply moving, you may want to listen to this piece by Beethoven. It may be a suitable accompaniment to your reading or writing of description, especially of landscape or architecture.

Ghost – Little Boots

A frightening little song, it will make you wonder if you have overlooked anybody who may be watching over you…

Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran

Do you need an energetic song for the lycanthrope in your life? Look no further than this hit from the eighties!

Disturbia – Rihanna

Is your idea of a Gothic world just a bit fantastical, or dystopian, or both? This track could suit it well, and help you to focus on developing it into language just as rich as your imagination.

China in Your Hand – T’Pau

Perfect for writing about tragic heroes, this wonderful song will remind you that dreams can easily become nightmares.

Bat Out of Hell – Meatloaf

Got a vampire in love? Then you’ll want to listen to this track with its dizzying guitars and deep-throated vocalist, who tells a story through the lyrics he sings.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Eurhythmics

It may state ‘sweet’ in the title, but this track is quite the opposite in its content. The music video is just as striking as the song’s lyrics, and could be a wonderful accompaniment to a Gothic story with a focus on the human psyche.

Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 – Chopin

Featured in the 1997 film adaptation of Jane Eyre, this beautiful piece is darkly romantic. Its solemn notes are contrasted with gloriously with its light ones, making for some thought-provoking listening.

Within You – David Bowie

Bowie sang this as the Goblin King in the 1986 film Labyrinth. His raspy vocals and the dramatic instrumental combine to make a rather beautifully unnerving song.

Female of the Species – Space

Oh, those femme fatales! They will engross you just as much as they entice their fellow characters. Sing along in sympathy to this song.

I hope these songs and piano pieces can accompany your reading of Gothic fiction, or inspire you to write your own!

What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.

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Burn’s Night Brilliance: Talent and Tartan

MA English student Janet Cooper and Publications Officer Chloé Campbell tells us about Spectral Visions, Burns, The Borders, the launch event of Spectral Visions Press

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The 30th January, 2015, marked the launch of Spectral Visions Press, the University of Sunderland’s new publishing house, with Burns Night celebrations. This was yet another spectacular Spectral Visions event, celebrated in style. What started off with key note speakers in the afternoon, ended in a late night Ceilidh, rejoicing in Scottish culture.

At 4pm keynote speeches began by Steve Watts, Head of Department of Culture, and Colin Younger, senior lecturer and programme leader for English and Creative Writing, both of whom are integral members of the Spectral Visions clan. Steve Watt’s keynote presentation, ‘My Native Land: An Introduction to the Borders’ captured the audience’s attention, providing an interdisciplinary perspective into Walter Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Drawing on geographical, anthropological and biographical viewpoints, Steve took the enthralled audience on a journey across the wild border between Scotland and England, outlining and examining Scott’s narrative ballad.

Following Steve’s spirited liminal, literary expedition, a dramatic performance commenced in the lecture theatre. English and Drama students Jenah Colledge, Chloe Cremins, Katie Watson and Brett Bain executed a striking dance performance of Robert Burns’ famous poem ‘Tam o’Shanter’, complete with atmospheric lighting, audio, and a reading of the piece. The audience appeared enraptured by the interesting performance, which was greeted with applause and many compliments.

Following the break from academic displays, Colin Younger engaged the audience in his keynote presentation ‘Burns and the Supernatural’. In true Spectral Visions fashion, Colin presented the bewitched audience with a stimulating and captivating commentary on the gothic motifs present in Burns’ most celebrated works.

The evening festivities then began in the Bonded Warehouse, a quirky and charming bar based on the University campus, with sweeping views of the River Wear. The upstairs room was reminiscent of a barn conversion with its rustic exposed beams, but more importantly, it held a good sized dance floor, perfect for the animated ceilidh!

Popular folk band Alisdair’s Misfortune initiated the party and connected with the audience, whilst playing traditional and lively music throughout the night. The Newcastle-based group have since won the prestigious Danny Kyle Award at this year’s Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, which perfectly compliments their award-winning sound and spirit, which was entirely evident at the Burns Night festivities.

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Guests arrived in full spirit and there was tartan-a-plenty! Such a vintage collection of tartan attire truly belonged in a fashion show. Guests were invited to take part in traditional folk-dance led by the band members and this really started an evening of fun to be had by all.

The band, with its inspirational sound and its positively successful attempts to involve the audience, created an ambience of entertainment and merriment. Of course, the band wasn’t the only talent of the evening; this was a University of Sunderland event after all! You could hear a pin drop when an enchanting singer Victoria Smith sang an a capella rendition of ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’, an emotive and flawless performance which reflected the sentiment in Burns’ loved poem.

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This remarkable recital was soon followed by readings from Dr Robert Strachan Stephens, whom delivered original poetry from his own collections, Troll Tales and the Fables of Aesop in Scots Verse, in true Scottish spirit. The crowd were in awe during the performance by the extremely gifted poet, as he executed his Scottish poetry with passion and wit. Following a number of readings, Robert humbly chatted to the guests as they approached him with questions and compliments.

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All of the events that took place, both academic and social, were wonderfully successful due the visionaries, the lecturers, the guests, and the performers – all Talents in their own right, all in Tartan.

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