Geek Nail Art

One of my other hobbies is nail polish and nail art. Every 1-3 times a week, I do my nails in pretty and fabulous ways. I’m not the best at it, but it is something to do which is nice and relaxing. My biggest issue is deciding what to do – I have about 150 nail polish colours and there’s a wide range of techniques and designs to do. Of course, what better than to combine my love of nail polish and my love of geekdom?

This is easy to do – even for a nail polish noob! I really admire people who can paint whole artistic scenes on their nails, but I don’t have the ability for that sort of fine art. I tend to rely on colour schemes and stamping primarily, so this post will be about easy-to-do tributes.  nails

(Not really a geek nail design, just one of my favourites ^_^)

Continue reading Geek Nail Art

Advertisements

Identification

At the moment, I’m starting to look into concepts around how readers (and gamers/viewers) connect with characters, or how identification happens.

What-Does-That-Mean-Foreign-Language

There’s a few different thoughts around identification: does the reader want to BE that character? Do they imagine themselves AS the character? Or does the reader hold themselves outside of the character, observing and judging the situations and events?

It’s not as simple as “readers connect with the main character” (and definitely not that the main character has to be likable to be identifiable!). In some books, the main protagonist is the alienated viewpoint. Say, feed by M T Anderson – the main character, Titus, is this solipsistic teen in a highly commercial and capitalistic future. In this future, kids have an internet implant (the feed) in their brain (imagine having thoughts getting interrupted by ads). Except for Violet, who sees the world “as it truly is” without the implant and questions everything. Even though the book is written entirely through Titus’ perspective, empathy and identification goes more to Violet. The book is even dedicated “To all those who resist the feed.”

In film studies, identification is also complicated, with commentators distinguishing between primary identification (with the camera) and secondary identification (the character of empathic choice) (Clover 7-8).

chase

Evil Dead awesomeness. Dem camera moves!

… just as attacker and attacked are expressions of the same self in nightmares, so they are expressions of the same viewer in horror film. We are both Red Riding Hood and the Wolf; the force of the experience, in horror, comes from “knowing” both sides of the story. ~ Carol Clover

I’m still fairly new to looking into video game studies, but in searching for stuff around this topic, I found an interesting study on identification in three ways: avatar identification (roleplay, customisation and escapism), group identification (socialising and relationships) and game identification (advancement and mechanics).

sera2newCharacter customisation is huge for me and how I play Warcraft.

Identification is more than just “I like X”, but is important also in part because of the general perception that watching/reading/playing can influence you, the typical example being that playing violent video games makes you commit real world violence – which I totally reject. fool

Identification is also interesting in terms of genre. For example, with romance, it’s probably safe to say most people assume that the reader identifies with the heroine. And for a while the heroine as narrator was pretty established, however from perhaps around the 80’s this began to change as reader’s wanted to see the narrative from the heroes point of view. Author Laura Kinsale proposed in “The Androgynous Reader” that actually, the romance reader identifies with the hero, as the reader is represented by and also in competition with the heroine. Kinsale argued that “through her own and the hero’s eyes, the reader watches and judges the heroine” (35).

Which leads me onto what I’ve been looking at as a case study for all this: Twilight!giphyOn Meyer’s website, she states that “I left out a detailed description of Bella in the book so that the reader could more easily step into her shoes.” This goes back to the Mills and Boon adoption of “Lubbock’s Law”:

Lubbock’s Law was derived from Percy Lubbock, critic and author, who published The Craft of Fiction in 1921. Lubbock maintained that the best fiction, such as Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, succeeded in part because the author wrote from the heroine’s point of view. ‘to have lived with their creations is to have lived with them as well,’ Lubbock maintained. Fiction, he added, must ‘look true’.~ Joseph McAleer

How Meyer interprets how reader’s identify with Bella was also extended to the choice of casting:

For every actress that has been suggested as Bella in the past few years, there are always a slew of critics that cry, “But she doesn’t look like Bella!” (Which can often be translated thusly: “She doesn’t look like ME!”) To this I would like to say: “Of course she doesn’t!” Bella is a fictional character, and she looks different to everyone. As is the same with every actor who will be cast in the next few months, no one is going to match up with your mental picture exactly—or mine.

Bella’s apparent blandness or blankness of personality was also picked up on by critics as a device for identification:

Unfortunately, the books are tough to defend. There’s no doubt, for instance, that Bella is a remarkably droopy, drippy character, and while her blankness could be justified as a device, enabling readers to identify with her (which has obviously happened to an extraordinary degree), she also has a weird clumsiness, a haplessness that means her vampire boyfriend has to rescue her regularly. ~ Kira Cochrane, The Guardian

Concerns about Bella’s passivity neglect to consider how the books invite identification with the main character. For this to be possible, there have to be certain gaps in her characterisation, but these gaps are designed to be filled in by readers with their own characteristics. ~ Catherine Strong, The Age

As Crawford examines in his chapter on the fandom and the controversy of Twilight, it is often claimed to be bad for readers, because if they identify with Bella (through such claims in fan reviews as wanting to be Bella or wanting to marry Edward etc) then they have a role model who has low self-esteem, is submissive, is passive and all that jazz – but then he asks “does the fact that someone identifies with a fictional character really imply that they view them as ‘a model for [their own] real-life choices’?” The argument against Bella and Twilight is also used for 50 Shades, such as with this article snarkily titled “Christian Grey is not real”. Crawford sees this argument as rather reductive, and also perhaps with implicit discrimination against readers (of Twilight) “because of their presumed youth and femaleness … often seem to be assumed, a priori, to lack the critical faculties necessary to distinguish between fantasy and reality.” This will be no surprise to fans of romance, or even young adult literature.

Dylan-Moran

So TL;DR, there’s a bunch of theories of how identification works, but it’s important to think about because society thinks that identification with fictional characters will lead to bad things, particularly if the work is about about sex or violence or is aimed towards younger readers.

Recommended Reading

  • Men, Women and Chainsaws by Carol Clover ~ A study of horror films from the 70’s to mid 80’s and how identification works (using a psychoanalytical framework) and how it is gendered.
  • Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon by Joseph McAleer ~ A very detailed history of how Mills & Boon became one of the biggest publishing names in the world
  • The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity by Carol Thurston ~ A slightly older work, on how romance and women in romance were changing in the 70’s and 80’s due to the new wave of feminism.
  • “The Androgynous Reader.” by Laura Kinsale in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. ~ How reader identification works with romances (this is not an academic work, but rather from the perspective of an author of romances – however, quite a few academics pick up on this and extend the work, such as Amber Botts “Cavewoman Impulses: The Jungian Shadow Archetype in Popular Romance Fiction” in Romantic Conventions edited by Anne K Kaler and Rosemary Johnson-Kurek.)
  • The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance by Joseph Crawford ~ awesome history of the paranormal romance, its gothic associations, and including a reader response chapter on “The Twilight Controversy”
  • Player Identification in Online Games: Validation of a Scale for Measuring Identification in MMOG’s by Jan Van Looy, Cedric Courtois, Melanie De Vocht and Lieven De Marez in Media Psychology Vol 15.2 (2012).

Zombie Perspectives (with bonus Zombie Sex)

Had to get your attention somehow. I have no regrets! Anyway, my friend started it:

Someone wants to go there with me! Excellent XD

So this blog will be an overview of books that include books from a zombie’s perspective, or has a zombie-human romance (some books classed as zombie romances are human-human relations during a zombie apocalypse. If you want that, go look at Kylie Scott!). These summaries will be spoiler-free – it takes info from either the first chapter or the blurb. If we want to be technical, these are not all really capital-R Romances (as in genre), but rather contain romantic elements. If you have any suggestions for other books I should add here (or buy!), let me know!

Flesh (Flesh, #1)Skin (Flesh, #2)

Zombie Perspectives

There is a bit of overlap, so these are the non-relationship ones.
DustDust is centred around Jessie, a zombie. She has a nice little zombie gang and society going on. Their world starts to change when they notice new creatures in the woods, ones that blur the boundaries between living and dead even more than before.
Keywords: First Person POV, Zombie Perspective, Known in society, Apocalyptic, Infectious, Series

Dead Mann Walking (Hessius Mann #1)

This is sort of a noir story with a PI down on his luck – except the PI is a zombie. In this world, there is a ‘cure’ for death. In Mann’s case he was executed for his wife’s murder and later found to be innocent of the crime, so he was resurrected. There’s still a barrier between zombies and ‘livebloods’ in society, so he doesn’t get hired much.
Keywords: First Person POV, Zombie Perspective, Known in society, Series

Pay Me in Flesh (Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law, #1)Mallory Caine is an attorney and a zombie. She still needs flesh (especially brains) to survive after she died and was mysteriously resurrected by someone a year ago. Zombies and vampires aren’t known in society, so her dietary requirements, the true nature has to be hidden from everyone, including a certain persistent ex-boyfriend.
Keywords: First POV, Zombie Perspective, Urban Fantasy, Not known in society, Zombie Master, Series
~

Zombie Romance &/Or Sex
Nightshifted (Edie Spence, #1)Edie is a nurse in County Hospital on the special shift – the one with vampires, weres, zombies. These creatures live under the radar of normal society, but they deserve proper medical attention too! And in the case of one handsome zombie, a bit of a different type of attention…
Keywords: First Person POV, Urban Fantasy, Not known in society, Series

Reaper's TouchThis one comes out Feb 10 from Carina Press. It is a post-apocalyptic steampunk Western with zombies … and some luvvins! It’s been much recommended to me by friends, but since I haven’t read it, here’s the blurb from GoodReads: Abby is a Ranger, part of an elite group who defend the border against Reapers—humans infected with a parasite that turns them into mindless cannibals. Rangers are immune to Reaper infection, and as one of the only female Rangers, Abby is expected to settle down and breed more Rangers—a fate she’s keen to avoid. When she’s ambushed on the plains, she’s ready to go out with guns blazing—until a mysterious, handsome cowboy rides to her rescue.

Keywords: Third Person POV, Zombie perspective, Zombie-human relationship, Paranormal Romance, Known in Society, Series, Infectious, Apocalyptic

Generation Dead (Generation Dead, #1)Teens across the country start waking up from their death. They are a bit fuzzy around the edges, but so is society – teens have always been seen as difficult, but the entire culture needs to adapt to these resurrected kids. Challenging the suspicions of society, Phoebe falls in love with a zombie (“differently biotic”) boy.
Keywords: Third Person POV, Zombie perspective, Zombie-human relationship, YA, Paranormal romance, Known in society, Series

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies, #1)R is a zombie, who spends most of his days aimlessly walking around an airport or in his plane. One trip to town will change his life as he falls in love with a girl just trying to survive in the apocalypse. This book is different from the movie, and I’d argue it’s much better!
Keywords: First Person POV, Zombie perspective, YA, Paranormal romance, Known in society, Infectious, Apocalyptic, Zombie-human relationship

Dearly, Departed (Gone With the Respiration, #1)Set in post-apocalyptic neo-Victorian world, Nora Dearly is captured by the living dead. But these are the good guys, a military unit of zombies protecting her from the real monsters. She is determined to find out the truth of what is going on, and not even the handsome Bram can stop her from discovering the secrets of the dead.
Keywords: First Person POV, Zombie perspective, YA, Paranormal romance, Infectious, Zombie-human relationship, Series

I Kissed a Zombie, and I Liked ItAlley lives in a world of post-humans; vampires, werewolves, zombies and really isn’t impressed by their brooding emo attitude. She didn’t realise he was a zombie when she fell head over heels for Doug. How does one date the undead?
Keywords: First Person POV, YA, Paranormal romance, Zombie-human relationship,
~

Extras

Breathers: A Zombie's LamentAndy wakes up from a tragic car accident that killed his wife … and himself. It’s hard to find anything to live for or do, he just lives in his parent’s basement (to the disgust of his father), and attends (useless) therapy and Undead Anonymous meetings where he meets the sexy Rita – a recent suicide.
Keywords: First POV, Zombie perspective, Known in society, Zombie-zombie relationship

My Life as a White Trash Zombie (White Trash Zombie, #1)

Angel Crawford’s life is nothing to envy, an alcoholic dad, a high school dropout, criminal record. Waking up after dying is a weird experience, and it only gets stranger when she finds a mysterious letter offering her a new job – at the county morgue. Complete with a new craving for brains, she has a second chance at life … sort of.
Keywords: First Person POV, Zombie perspective, Not known in society, Urban fantasy, Series

Die for Me (Revenants, #1)This book isn’t exactly zombies, but related – revenants (they use the term zombies as a joke). Kate has moved to Paris with her sister after the death of their parents, she is at a loss of how to deal with her life. Until she meets the handsome and mysterious Vincent, but being with him is not going to be easy. He has enemies, and being with him means that they are also now after Kate.
Keywords: First Person POV, Not known in society, YA, Paranormal romance, Series

The Problem of Genre

I just read this post and the comments (omg comments that are actual discussion and not trolling! Weird!) on Pamela Regis’ The Natural History of the Romance Novel. It’s a book I have yet to get, but have been recommended it for my thesis because of its importance in romance scholarship. Since I haven’t read it, I can’t comment much on the book in general, but the author of the blog, Noah Berlatsky, brings up something of great interest to me: the problem of genre and its definitions and tropes.

~

Regis refers to romance as having eight essential elements, which according to some, at once restricts the definition of romance to a set formula and chokes the potential for originality in the genre. Berlatsky is particularly critical of people who enforce the genre boundaries. He uses the example of an editor who sticks by the Essential Elements list to make authors change their stories to “better fit” the romance genre, thus influencing directly the limitations of how the genre is presented. Great literature is built on change, so he asks – do we actually need definitions?

Genres (and categories) are redefined all the time – they are “fuzzy and socially determined and always negotiated” (Berlatsky). Regis admitted in 2009 that her original definition including specific gender terms was excluding gay and bisexual romances, so the gendered terms turned into the neutral “protagonists”. There is also a problem in WHO defines the genre – genre is used most usefully by the publishing industry/process itself (including self-publishers). But readers are also important in the process (after all, that’s the whole point of publishing – to get the product to the consumers). The whole system of defining genres depends on each type of person invested in the genre. Look at the creation of the New Adult category.

Definitions are sort of useful in some ways. YA (a category, not a genre) is defined (by some) as “fictive texts which have an implied teenage audience; that is, books which either feature protagonists of a secondary school age (twelve to eighteen years), or, it is reasonable to suppose, would be read by those in this age group”. This is a rather loose descriptor, but fits quite well as it doesn’t impose rules. YA can be any genre. While YA is considered largely to be written in first person present tense, there is no rule saying it can’t be otherwise. There are trends and tropes, but they vary as well. Could a loose descriptor rather than a strict definition be the way to go?

IMHO, Genres (and categories) shouldn’t be used to limit new creations – society itself depends on creativity and change to grow (and society is always in a state of flux). As much as I’m not a fan of Deleuze, he referred to art as being its own form of philosophy, capable of true freedom from the strict rules of reality and able to bend the laws of time and space. I rather like that!

~

Various Examples & Random Thoughts

  • Does romance require a Happily Ever After (HEA)? Where is the line between a Romance or a book containing romantic elements? (I’m having this very problem in creating criteria for my thesis)
  • Does the reliance of some fantasy writers on Joseph Campbell’s Heroes Journey restrict creativity? (E.g. This is not only used in writing books, it’s also used in analysing movies (thanks Ross for reminding me!). I have also read somewhere that George Lucas relied on it heavily for Star Wars.)
  • Some criticise YA for being too bleak and state that children’s/YA literature should always have a happy, or at least an ambiguous, ending, to inspire hope in the young readers – should this be an excuse?
  • Sometimes with popular books, they can cross genres/categories. If particularly popular, this will require a change in marketing and cover design (e.g. Harry Potter as the most obvious, Allison Croggon’s Pellinor). Some books might not be found if categorised in the wrong genre (meta-data=super important!).

~

*Note: Funnily enough on the same day, I saw a link to an article about someone who went through and analysed the genres/categories on Netflix.

** Urge to go on about narrow definitions of monsters that lead to exclusion, but I’ll leave that for another blog. Until then, there is this blog about why sparkly vampires don’t suck as much as you think

Ideology and the Reader

This is a post of contention. The idea of ideology and meaning in fiction has long been argued about. I think the problem stems back to English classes where we are taught about authors intentions, deliberate meaning and relationship between the author’s feelings and own lives to their fiction. Now, this is ONE type of way to analyse fiction, but personally not one I go for.

This post is about exploring another way to analyse fiction. Nothing is right or wrong in academia (unless it’s written by a dead French guy, then it’s always right  /snark), so everything (that can be backed up with scholarly, peer-reviewed works) is legit.

** With thanks to Tim Coronel and Jodi McAlister for their input ❤ **

~

Ideology in the Story

All text is considered ideological.

A narrative without an ideology is unthinkable: ideology is formulated in and by language, meanings within language are socially determined, and narratives are constructed out of language (Stephens 8).

By how you write characters, story and events, you create particular attributes, values, morals, ethics etc. which are inscribed as good or bad. Where this gets messy is the concept of the author’s intention. Some believe that authors do this all deliberately, to imprint upon her/his audience certain messages. I’m of the belief that the author’s intention cannot be read within a text (check out Death of the Author) – the text speaks for itself.

All statements are mediated (at first created by the author, but then by the narrator – for more on narration, check here). The creation of any text does carry particular meanings within it regardless of intent. Ideology is not merely carried through deliberate action but by subconscious assumptions too. What is communicated is the story and it is communicated by discourse (the discourse states the story) (Chatman 31).

Story and Discourse Pg 26

~

The Communication of the Ideology

The type of study I am doing looks at how the narrative structure and techniques can influence or lead a reader to a particular message or ideology. This is not to say all readers are blank slates and blindly accept whatever they are given (resistance is entirely possible – see Althusser or Gramsci). The story creates an implied reader position or audience. The audience for young adult fiction is, generally, young adults. But we know not everyone who actually reads YA is a young adult. With what the text assumes about what its reader knows, and how it presents information (particularly through narration), it positions the implied reader regardless of the real reader.

A narrative texts’ construction of communication is read thusly:

Real Author -> [Implied Author -> (Narrator) -> (Narratee) -> Implied Reader] -> Real Reader

The implied author is the reconstruction of the author by the reader from the narrative. The implied author has no direction in the work, it is how a reader might imagine an author to be based on the narrative. Perhaps this is where all those “the room was blue, this shows the author was sad” sort of statements come from?

Outside the brackets are the real world, you can take, give, resist or write as you, the individual. Inside the square brackets are what is drawn from or created by the narrative, which is established within the round brackets.

~

Hollindale’s Three Levels of Ideology

  1. Explicit social, political or moral beliefs of the individual writer and his/her wish to recommend them to readers through the story. Intended surface ideology. Usually more radical/non-conservative.
  2. The individual writer’s unexamined assumptions. Even passive beliefs can be revealed through story. These are generally widely shared values.
  3. A large part of any book is written not by its author, but by the world the author lives in. This transcends the idea of individual authorship.

~

Examples:

Applebaum’s research into YA science fiction is based on the proposal that as adults are the writers of children’s books, they influence the novel (whether deliberately or not) with their own fears and anxieties.

…the function of SF as a vehicle for exploring contemporary dilemmas within the context of scientific and technological discovers, a perception which is central to this book (Applebaum 3)

James’ study looks at representations of death in children’s fiction, as well as gender and sexuality.

…a culture’s representations of death may be read collectively as a text to give insights into its social systems, death ethos, conceptions of selfhood, temporal orientation, and religious and secular values (James 2)

Trites’ research is into power relations that are represented within adolescent literature. Teenagers must learn the negotiation of social institutions (power) to be able to grow successfully, according to societal rules and expectations.

Adolescent novels…invariably reflect some cultural biases, most of which are likely to be veiled in ideological discourses that affirm widely held societal views (Trites 27)

~

Recommended Reading

  • Chatman, Seymore. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film.
  • Barthes, Roland. Death of the Author. 1967 essay.
  • Applebaum, Noga Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People
  • James, Kathryn Death, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Adolescent Literature
  • Trites, Roberta Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature
  • McCallum, Robyn Ideologies of Identity in Adolescent Fiction: The Dialogic Construction of Subjectivity
  • Stephens, John Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction
  • Genette, Gerard Narrative Discourse
  • Hollindale, Peter, Ideology and the Children’s Book (This article is especially useful!)
  • Gramsci, Antonio Selections of Prison Notebooks
  • Davis, Helen, Understanding Stuart Hall
  • Althusser, Louis Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

The Changing Face of the Monster

Over some mocha this morning I was thinking (coffee required for brain function). Everyone blames Twilight for dumbing down the vampire. People right out despise Twilight for changing vampires. They’re supposed to be monsters, people cry out in rage, not lovers! As my focus is also on a monster-turned-romantic-interest, Twilight has some sort of weird interest for me. I don’t particularly like it, I think Bella is weak and the writing not great – but there’s a part of me that knows that if I’d read it as a teenager (probably <15; maybe what would be considered a tween now), I would have loved it.vampires

Vampires had already completely saturated mainstream culture before Twilight. They were domesticated by their commodification. Fred Botting discusses this: the vampire is now a familiar and consumable figure. His references for this go much earlier than Twilight, with Dracula as a superhero in 1962 and the amusing Count Duckula, but especially Anne Rice (he doesn’t specifically mention Twilight in this section, although this book was published three years afterwards, but I haven’t finished reading it all yet!). This has created a new site of identification for the vampire.

“Vampires cease to be threats to individual and social identity and curiously give shape to the unformed mass of desires, cravings and appetites called the consumer” (Botting 41)

So the vampire loses its weirdness.  This sort of goes against a lot of monster theory. The vampire is no longer uncanny – something that was once familiar and has since become repressed (Freudian theory). True Otherness is a return of the repressed. Foucault argued “What makes a human monster a monster is not just its exceptionality relative to the species form … the human monster combines the impossible and the forbidden” (Foucault in Levina and Bui, 5). For Derrida, a monster is something that is unknown, abnormal, it frightens because there is no anticipating it. Once it is known, once the monster is seen as a monster, “one begins to domesticate it” (Derrida in Levina and Bui, 6). In Twilight Edward says vampires could have evolved side-by-side with humans – Darwinian evolution rather than supernatural presence.

“The vampire is warmly embraced, included, naturalised, humanised in an appropriative liberal gesture that is scarcely tenable given the vampire’s historical construction as that which is both most proximate and alien to human identity”(Botting 41)

We know what vampires and zombies are now. We know their weaknesses, we know their  strengths. What is left to explore? As Hildebrand-Burke demonstrates in his post on modern horror, we seem to stick to the past view of monsters rather than looking to the future. Why can’t we create new monsters? Why stick to the 19th century imagery of what a vampire is, or the 1970s-80s version of what a zombie is? Fear comes from change, from what is unknown. Nina Auerbach proposes “every age embraces the vampire it needs” (although embrace might be a bit strong. Every age CREATES the vampire it needs?).

Although Twilight and the books I’m looking at are romances or contain romantic elements (romances = romance is the main plot & must have a happy ending. Romantic elements = romance is supplementary to the story), they change the monster and yet are reviled for it. Most modern vampires laugh at the suggestion that a Christian Cross or garlic can stop them. Is this not making the familiar monster unfamiliar again? They are changing the rules of the game and disturbing the knowledge that makes us safe. Why do we even want to restrict this change?zombies

Recommended Reading

  • Where are all the Monster Books? by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
  • Guide to writing modern horror by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
  • The Limits of Horror by Fred Botting
  • Monster Culture in the 21st Century edited by Marina Levina and Diem My Bui (check the Introduction by the editors, and Domesticating the Monstrous in a Globalizing World chapter by Carolyn Harford)
  • Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture edited by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger
  • The Living Dead: A study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature by James B Twitchell
  • The Real Twilight: True stories of Modern Day Vampires by Arlene Russo
  • A Taste of True Blood: The Fangbangers Guide edited by Leah Wilson
  • The Changing Vampire of Film and Television: A critical study of the growth of a genre by Tim Kane

*Images from the Sims 3: Supernatural promotional material

More on Monsters

I make no attempt to hide how much I love monsters. My collection of Daleks is bigger than my collection of Tardis’. I call myself Forsaken in Warcraft and am dedicated to the Dark Lady (crazy zombie lady wants to kill all of the living – the usual). Part of this blog post was an assignment I did for uni, where I had a lot of fun in reading all about how we create monsters. This will be primarily on books, but also a few movies and TV too. Some of this touches on what I want to write in my thesis next year too!Nosferatu

Nosferatu, my little fluffy buddy from Nebraska (protector of the coffee mug).

In fantasy* especially, the differences between good and evil are particularly stark and this binary is usually played out between hero and monster/monstrous entity.runty

What is a monster/monstrous?

What is a monster or is monstrous are fluid descriptors. In general, the monster/monstrous is Other and ‘unlike us’. It is made of difference. The monster is the physical form and not human. Humans, however, can have monstrous aspects, which could be cultural, political, racial, economic or sexual differences. The descriptor of ‘monstrous’ is a process of alterity. These are not strict boundaries – through the process of dehumanising the monstrous human, their deviance can be inscribed upon their body (e.g. historically, this would be something like saying an enemy had a deformed body). In some cases, the monster can be the hero of a text, but the villain is usually dehumanised by their evil actions, thoughts or beliefs.

onyxia

Narrative Techniques

Metaphoric mode

Fantasy is a metaphoric mode, using techniques like indirection, parallel and allegory to comment on contemporary social practice. The theories of monsters also usually focus on the representational aspect. The monster/monstrous can stand for something repressed, a specific social and historical anxiety, or fear of the unknown. Textually, there is usually an emphasis on physicality (as well as inscribing deviance, it can be even a glance, “eyes as unforgiving as a snake” etc). The monster/monstrous itself can be a form of authority, and representing a negative ideology (the opposite to the usual values, morals, beliefs of a society – e.g. the monster could say that it is okay to kill for one’s own pleasure or power gain). The goal of the monster/monstrous is usually to seduce the hero to the dark side or kill them. The hero cannot be ignored. Often, the main character has a special relationship to the monster – particularly if it is a singular monster/monstrous** – or the hero is somehow special to them (particularly in paranormal romance).

Recommended Fiction

  • of the dead movie series, Romero (very clearly metaphoric of many anxieties – Romero’s zombie movies have been analysed many times)
  • Many dystopias are metaphoric – the very nature of the genre is that it takes what we have in society now to the extremes and extrapolates the change in human nature. The meaning of the genre is also to be a warning.
  • Witches of Eileanan series by Kate Forsyth
  • The Belgariad & Malloreon series by David Eddings
  • Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
  • Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris or True Blood tv series

molder

Focalisation/Point of View

While third person narration is more familiar in larger fantasy sagas, the monster/monstrous rarely gets a word in edgewise. Usually if they do get their own perspective, this is for dramatic effect so that you the reader can see something bad coming, but the good guys have no idea. However, in works such as dystopias and paranormal romances, limited first person is more typical. It can happen in these genres that the monsters (not monstrous entities) become heroes, romantic interests and sometimes even focalisers. It is often said that the role of limited first person narration is to get the reader on their side, so this narrative strategy at once defamiliarises the reader through having such a strange protagonist, at the same time as making them more sympathetic to the reader (Note: This is what I’m actually going to explore in my thesis).

Recommended Fiction

  • Dust by Joan Frances Turner
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
  • Generation Dead (book #1 in a series) by Daniel Waters
  • Dearly Departed (#1 in a series) by Lia Habel
  • My Life as a White Trash Zombie (book #1 in a series)by Diana Rowland
  • Endless vampire books – but the good ones are Evernight (Book #1 in series) by Claudia Gray and Vampire Academy (book #1 in series) by Richelle Mead and Blue Blues (book #1 in series) by Melissa de la Cruz.

~

jenny

A thought on disembodied monsters

Something this makes me consider is if something disembodied can be a monster or monstrous, for example, an extremely repressive society, or certain technologies. It becomes almost an entity in itself where it is not one person alone or one sub-human race alone that is the problem, but something incredibly integral to how life is lived. Often in science fiction and YA, a dystopia comes about because something was once seen as progressive. Humans strive for utopia, and that striving for progress in itself becomes the horrific dystopia. Technology and ideas become threatening to the very stability of the world. You hear it now, the internet is softening our minds, we are losing our inner humanity through the progress of wearable (or implantable) technology. That fear comes across in books as well. Does that mean it is a monster or monstrous?

Recommended Fiction

  • Feed by M T Anderson
  • Uglies (series) by Scott Westerfeld
  • The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins
  • Unwind by Neal Stephenson

~

mouse

A blurring of boundaries – Hero or Villain?

Something which particularly strikes at me are ambiguous heroes/villains. It could be they were perceived one way before and now are the other, or they have changed over the series and become greater/worse than who they were. I think this is particularly stark in zombie stories such as The Walking Dead, where the enemy is not so much the zombies but other humans. The things the group needs to do to stay alive are utterly barbaric, but that is survival. In the Flesh is about how a cure was created for zombies, to bring them back to who they were before and how society deals with that. This is also dealt with in a lot of zombie romance texts. In fantasy, it could be that a blackhearted villain is not really evil, but coerced by others or convinced that it is the best thing because the alternatives are worse.

Recommended Fiction

  • The Walking Dead comics and tv show
  • Quiver by Jason Fischer
  • In the Flesh tv series
  • Go re-read the recommended fiction section under Focalisation/Point of View

monsters1

*For some reason, some works tend to use fantasy as an overall term that also extends to science fiction and horror – no idea why they don’t just use speculative fiction.

** Examples of archetypes: Singular Monster: The dark lord, the witch. Singular Monstrous: The tyrant, the evil step-mother. Monsters: Vampires, demons, zombies, werewolves. Monstrous many: aspects of society e.g. repression, technology etc.

~

Recommended Reading

  • Applebaum, Noga. Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People. New York: Routledge. 2010. Print.
  • Bishop, Kyle W. American Zombie Gothic. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Botting, Fred. Limits of Horror: Technology, bodies, Gothic. New York: Manchester University Press. 2008. Print.
  • Cohen, Jeffrey J. Monster Culture (Seven Theses). Monster Culture: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1996. Print.
  • Levina, Marina and Diem-My T. Bui, ed.s  Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader New York: Bloomsbury. 2013. Print.
  • Riley, Brendan. “Zombie People”. Triumph of the Walking Dead: Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic on page and screen. Ed James Lowder. Dallas: Banbella Books, 2011. 82-97. eBook.
  • Stephens, John. Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction. New York: Longman. 1992. Print.
  • Trites, Roberta S. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature. Iowa: University of Iowa Press. 2000. Print.