Now Reviewing Penny Dreadful for the Victorianist

This post is a teaser for my weekly review series on Penny Dreadful season 3, starting this Friday (6 May) and featured over at the Victorianist. [UPDATE: You can now find my first review in all its glory at this link.] When the first season of Penny Dreadful was announced in 2013, we were unsure what to expect. Initially, it … Read more

The Promises of Monsters

If you’re not too keen on theory, never fear! What I say below is basically a more academic rewriting of this blog post.  Next week I’ll be presenting at a conference called ‘Promises of Monsters’. In my paper, I’ll be looking at the way the Showtime series Penny Dreadful (and other monster mashups) use and abuse certain ‘promises’ … Read more

Dan Hillier’s Neo-Victorian Fever Dreams

‘These forgotten images and discarded memories re-write a gorgeously dark period of history, one full of elephant men and taxidermy, death and medicine. The resulting pieces are like postcards coming from Beardsley from a Victorian mansion – if the mansion was populated by circus freaks and Werner Herzog.’ (Dazed and Confused Magazine, April 2007) A … Read more

‘Embrace Your Dark Side’: Penny Dreadful‘s Season 3 Trailer

About two weeks ago a proper trailer for the next season of Penny Dreadful was released. Various other obligations have kept me from looking at it properly, but this week I’ve finally been able to sink my teeth into it. Without further ado, then, my take on this 1-minute-and-45-second trailer. (Note: there will be spoilers for seasons 1 and … Read more

Immigrant Portraiture and the Art of the Alien

Just over ten years ago, in 2005, a new book collecting the work of Augustus F. Sherman was published to much media interest and online fanfare. Sherman was an amateur photographer working as Chief Registry Clerk at New York’s Ellis Island station from 1892 until 1925, and he photographed some of the twelve million immigrants … Read more

The Uncanny

This week, teaching Dracula, I had the pleasure of re-reading Sigmund Freud’s essay on the uncanny, a thing described by Freud as ‘that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar’ (p.219).* Why would ‘old and long familiar’ things ever be frightening, you may well ask? Freud puts together a … Read more

The Good, the Bad, and the Book Trailers

Happy World Book Day (a few days late, and also only in the UK and Ireland)! This week’s post will be a short one, because I’ve got a big deadline on Friday that I should be focusing on, but I’ll try to start you off on an interesting trajectory. Naturally, the part of Book Day most people … Read more

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer

For my PhD research into monster mashups, I’ve ended up reading a lot of things with cheesy titles. Jane Slayre, Wuthering Bites, Grave Expectations, Mr Darcy, Vampyre – I could list them all day. Compared to these, Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer isn’t too bad, but it’s got the same gleeful level of camp and (ir)reverence for … Read more

Here Be Dragons: Why It’s Good to Identify With the Monster

Happy New Year! Hopefully 2015 will bring as many changes, challenges, stories, and monsters as 2014.

Sadly there is one thing that won’t be returning in the new year. After nine seasons on television, The Colbert Report, starring the satirical right-wing persona Stephen Colbert, ended on December 18, 2014. Multiple articles have talked about the political mark Colbert has left on television and on the USA, but today I’m interested in something a little less “real-world”.  In addition to his interest in politics, Stephen Colbert is a huge nerd.

During the penultimate week of the show Colbert had a special guest star: Smaug from The Hobbit. Smaug came to promote the third and final Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies, which hit cinemas in December. You can watch the interview on Colbert’s website, or here via YouTube:

Not only do I find this interview hilarious, particularly with its references Sherlock actors Benedict Cumberbatch (who also voices Smaug in the film adaptations of The Hobbit) and Martin Freeman (who plays Bilbo Baggins), and its caricature of Smaug as a Republican one-percenter – I’m also hoping it represents a continuing trend of glorifying the monster. Over the last few decades there’s been a marked increase in the number of stories told by the bad guy. Culture blog i09.com even had a recent post asking people to list their favourite re-tellings of stories from the villain’s perspective. There are any number of reasons why we find monsters and antiheroes fascinating, and recent pop culture has seen the development of enticingly multi-layered villains, but to be honest, I’m interested in stories that play with monsters in this way for another reason.

When we get right down to it, sympathising with the monsters gives us great practice in humanising people we might otherwise hate. By thinking at length about the reasons that people have for doing strange or terrible things, and imagining what those reasons might be creates empathy. Every single one of us, knowingly or unwittingly, has a group of people that we demonise. Sometimes the hatred that we feel towards these people is earned, but more often our vilification of them is linked to processes of which we are largely unaware. We dehumanise them so we don’t have to feel bad about hating or harming them, and so we can feel better about ourselves. While there are also negative sides to such empathy, in the best of cases, sympathising with the bad guy trains us to think before we assume. Who can ever think the same way about evil henchmen again once they’ve watched the scene below, from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)?

What would the world be like if we imagined a similar story for every person we hated or considered to be monstrous?

Of Apes and Angels

“Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.” –Terry Pratchett, Hogfather (London: Corgi, 1997), p. 422 This blog has recently undergone a move from WordPress.com to a real domain, as well as a re-design that includes a new name – something more vivid and less technical than ‘Neo-Historical … Read more