del Toro Wins Golden Globes and Affirms Monstrous Faith

Guillermo del Toro recently won the Best Director award at the Golden Globes for The Shape of Water. He was true to himself and his lifelong faith in monsters, as evidenced in his acceptance speech. Excerpts below:

“I thank you. My monsters thank you.”

“Since childhood, I’ve been faithful to monsters. I have been saved and absolved by them. Monsters, I believe, are patron saints of our blissful imperfection.”

“For 25 years, I have hand-crafted very strange little tales… in three precise instances, these strange stories have saved my life – once with The Devil’s Backbone, once with Pan’s Labyrinth, and now with The Shape of Water. As directors, these things are not just entries in a filmography. We have made a deal with a particularly inefficient devil, that trades three years of our life for one entry on IMDb. And these things are biography. And they are life.”

“Somewhere, Lon Chaney is smiling on all of us.”

Pop Culture Animation and Religion

I've just become aware of a new book based upon a PhD dissertation. It's titled Drawn to the Gods: Religion and Humor in the Simpsons, South Park, & Family Guy by David Feltmate (NYU Press, 2017). The dissertation was supervised by Douglas Cowan, a friend of TheoFantastique who has been interviewed here several times previously on his great work on religion and horror and science fiction. Feltmate's book is the subject of a recent podcast at Here's the description:

If you were asked to name the TV programs with the most religious content and references what would you name? 7th Heaven, Supernatural or perhaps Games of Thrones? How many of us would name animated television series such as The Simpsons, Family Guy or South Park? These television series are amongst the most religions on our screens. Indeed, 95% of The Simpsons episodes, 84% of Family Guy episodes, and 78% of South Park episodes contain explicit religious references. These animated comedy shows are critically influential in teaching viewers about religious people and religious institutions. The commentary created via the intersection between humour, satire, and religion in these TV shows, particularly in their own context of America, creates an interesting image of what it supposedly means to be a “good religious American”. In this podcast Associate Professor David Feltmate, author of Drawn to the Gods: Religion and Humor in The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy, chats to Breann Fallon about the manner in which these three television shows create a broad commentary on religion for the general public. Feltmate highlights the central place these animate programs have in the proliferation of ideas about the spiritual and the religious, as heavily consumed mediums of popular culture.

Monster Theory and the Hebrew Bible

Terry Wright of the Sacred Writings blog made me aware of a new essay applying monster theory to biblical studies. The title and abstract are reproduced below.

Text and Terror: Monster Theory and the Hebrew Bible
Brandon R. Grafius
Currents in Biblical Research
Volume 6, Issue 1 (2017)

While biblical scholars have long been interested in the monsters of the Hebrew Bible, it is only in the last several decades that theoretical approaches to monsters have made their way into biblical studies. Originating in the fields of psychoanalysis and anthropology, monster theory looks at the construction of various monsters, arguing that the way a culture creates its monsters reveals the anxieties held by that culture. This article will explore the uses of monster theory in recent works of biblical scholarship, demonstrating that monster theory has been used to read the figure of the monster as a representation of chaos, identify monstrous imagery as a rhetoric of trauma, and explore how the boundaries between the monster and the self are shifting and unstable.

Titles of Interest: Why Horror Seduces

Why Horror Seduces by Mathias Clasen (Oxford University Press, 2017)

From vampire apocalypses, shark attacks, witches, and ghosts, to murderous dolls bent on revenge, horror has been part of the American cinematic imagination for almost as long as pictures have moved on screens. But why do they captivate us so? What is the drive to be frightened, and why is it so perennially popular? Why Horror Seduces addresses these questions through evolutionary social sciences.

Explaining the functional seduction of horror entertainment, this book draws on cutting-edge findings in the evolutionary social sciences, showing how the horror genre is a product of human nature. Integrating the study of horror with the sciences of human nature, the book claims that horror entertainment works by targeting humans' adaptive tendency to find pleasure in make-believe, allowing a high intensity experience within a safe context. Through analyses of well-known and popular modern American works of horror--Rosemary's Baby; The Shining; I Am Legend; Jaws; and several others--author Mathias Clasen illustrates how these works target evolved cognitive and emotional mechanisms; we are attracted to horrifying entertainment because we have an adaptive tendency to find pleasure in make-believe that allows us to experience negative emotions at high levels of intensity within a safe context. Organized into three parts identifying fictional works by evolutionary mode--the evolution of horror; evolutionary interpretations of horror; the future of horror--Why Horror Seduces succinctly explores the cognitive processes behind spectators' need to scream.

From an interview with the author at Religion Dispatches:

What’s the most important take-home message for readers?

I think there are two important take-home messages: One, horror entertainment isn’t just mindless junk. No, the horror genre is ancient and universal, and horror stories serve important psychological, social, and moral functions for us. They give us insight into the darker extremes of our emotional register; they teach us about the vicissitudes of life and the complexities of psychology and sociality; and they provide moral calibration and help us grapple with notions of good and evil. They help us plug into our culture and connect with our humanity.

The other take-home message is that we can’t really make sense of horror without taking into account evolved and adapted human nature. Humanists have traditionally focused only on culture and context in their attempts to explain literature and films and so on, but we really have to take human biology seriously. Culture grows out of, and is constrained by, biology. That goes for horror entertainment too. Horror is enabled and constrained by human nature. If we weren’t fearful, imaginative creatures we’d have no horror stories—and if we want to understand why we are fearful, imaginative creatures, we have to get a fix on our evolutionary history and the biological forces that shaped our nature. So, my take-home messages are these: Let’s take horror seriously, and let’s take our own biological heritage seriously, because that heritage helps explain how and why scary entertainment works.

Call for Papers - Supernatural Cities: Narrated Geographies and Spectral Histories

The Open Graves, Open Minds Project unearthed depictions of the vampire and the undead in literature, art, and other media, before embracing shapeshifting creatures (most recently, the werewolf) and other supernatural beings and their worlds. It opens up questions concerning genre, gender, hybridity, cultural change, and other realms. It extends to all narratives of the fantastic, the folkloric, the fabulous, and the magical. Supernatural Cities encourages conversation between disciplines (e.g. history, cultural geography, folklore, social psychology, anthropology, sociology and literature). It explores the representation of urban heterotopias, otherness, haunting, estranging, the uncanny, enchantment, affective geographies, communal memory, and the urban fantastical.​

The city theme ties in with OGOM’s current research: Sam George’s work on the English Eerie and the urban myth of Old Stinker, the Hull werewolf; the Pied Piper’s city of Hamelin and the geography and folklore of Transylvania; Bill Hughes’s work on the emergence of the genre of paranormal romance from out of (among other forms) urban fantasy; Kaja Franck’s work on wilderness, wolves, and were-animals in the city. This event will see us make connections with the research of Supernatural Cities scholars, led by historian Karl Bell. Karl has explored the myth of Spring-Heeled-Jack, and the relationship between the fantastical imagination and the urban environment. We invite other scholars to join in the dialogue with related themes from their own research.

From its inception, the Gothic mode has been imbued with antiquity and solitude, with lonely castles and dark forests. The city, site of modernity, sociality, and rationalised living, seems to be an unlikely locus for texts of the supernatural. And yet, by the nineteenth century, Dracula had already invaded the metropolis from the Transylvanian shadows and writers such as R. L. Stevenson adapted the supernatural Gothic to urban settings. Gaskell, Dickens and Dostoyevsky, too, uncover the darker side of city life and suggest supernatural forces while discreetly maintaining a veneer of naturalism.

In twentieth-century fantastic and Gothic, perhaps owing in part to a disillusionment with modernity, all manner of spectres haunt our cities in novels, film, TV, and video games. Radcliffean Gothic saw the uncultivated wilderness and the premodern past as the fount of terror; the contemporary fantastic discovers the supernatural precisely where space has been most rationalised—the modern city. Civilisation, rooted etymologically in the Latin civitas (‘city’), is itself put into question by its subversion by the supernatural.

Supernatural cities emerge in a range of contemporary fictions from the horror of Stephen King to the dark fantasy of Clive Barker, the parallel Londons of V. E. Schwaab and China Mieville, magical neo-Victorian Londons in the Young Adult fiction of Genevieve Cogman and Samantha Shannon, and Aliette de Bodard’s fallen angels and dragons in a supernatural Paris. Zombies lurch through scenes of urban breakdown while, in TV, there is the vampire-ridden noir LA of Angel. The large metropolises are not alone in their unearthliness—see the Celtic otherworld that lies behind Manchester in Alan Garner’s Elidor. Then there are the imagined cities of high fantasy, which form a contrast to the gritty familiarity of the cities that feature in the distinct genre of urban fantasy itself or the frequently urban backgrounds of paranormal romance. Supernatural cities are haunted, too, by such urban legends as Spring Heeled-Jack and Old Stinker, the werewolf of Hull.

The conference will explore the image of the supernatural city as expressed in narrative media from a variety of epochs and cultures. It will provide an interdisciplinary forum for the development of innovative and creative research and examine the cultural significance of these themes in all their various manifestations. As with previous OGOM conferences, from which emerged books and special issue journals, there will be the opportunity for delegates’ presentations to be published.

The conference organising committee invites proposals for panels and individual papers. Possible topics and approaches may include (but are not limited to) the following:

The urban wyrd

The English eerie

Folk horror’s encroachment on the city

Magical cities

Alternative/parallel cities

Urban folklore/legends

Urban fantasy and genre

YA and children’s magical cities

Monsters and demons at large in the city (Dracula, Dorian Gray, Angel, Cat People, King Kong, Elephant Man, The Werewolf of London, Sweeney Todd, Jack the Ripper, Lestat, Zombie ‘R’, mummies, witches, etc.)


Gothic architecture

Cities and the incursion of the wilderness

Civilisation and nature

Alternative urban histories; neo-Victorianism and steampunk

Gothic/magical fashion, music, and subcultures of the city

Supernatural city creatures (demons, gargoyles, ghosts, vampires, angels)

Animal hauntings and city spectres

Decay, entropy, and economic collapse

Supernatural cityscapes in video games

Gotham City/comic books/dark knights

The disenchantments of modernity and re-enchantment of the city

Dark spaces/borders/liminal landscapes

Wild, uncanny areas of the city

Drowned/submerged cities

Keynote Speakers:

Prof. Owen Davies, historian of witchcraft and magic, on ‘Supernatural beliefs in nineteenth-century asylums’

Dr Sam George, Convenor of the Open Graves, Open Minds Project, ‘City Demons: urban manifestations of the Pied Piper and Nosferatu Myths’

Adam Scovell, BFI critic and Folk Horror film specialist, on ‘the Urban Wyrd’

Dr Karl Bell, Convenor of Supernatural Cities, on ‘the fantastical imagination and the urban environment’ (title tbc)

Delegates will engage with our Gruesome Gazetteer of Gothic Hertfordshire and accompany us on a tour of Supernatural St Albans and its environs.

Abstracts (200-300 words) for twenty-minute papers or proposals for two-hour panels, together with a 100-word biography, should be submitted by 1 January 2018 as an email attachment in MS Word document format to all of the following:

Dr Sam George,;

Dr Bill Hughes,;

Dr Kaja Franck,;

Dr Karl Bell,

Please use your surname as the document title. The abstract should be in the following format: (1) Title (2) Presenter(s) (3) Institutional affiliation (4) Email (5) Abstract. Panel proposals should include (1) Title of the panel (2) Name and contact information of the chair (3) Abstracts of the presenters.

Presenters will be notified of acceptance by 30 January 2018. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @OGOMProject @imaginetheurban

Salt Lake Comic Con presentations

My complete panel list for Salt Lake Comic Con. Some great and thought provoking discussions, two of which I moderate.

Harry Potter is My Bible: Fandom as Faith
Thursday September 21, 2017: 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm
People turn to fandoms for more than just entertainment. We find comfort and inspiration, guidance and even spirituality, in the art we consume. Drawing on the example from the podcast "Harry Potter and the Sacred Text" this panel will discuss the deeper ways fandom can help us in life.

Digital Geek Etiquette: How to Remain Civil and Not Feed the Trolls
Thursday September 21, 2017: 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Sometimes a healthy debate online turns personal. This presentation will talk about ways to encourage civility and communication on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and other online forums. We will also discuss cyberbullying, trolling and how to better share your fandom passions---without coming across like a jerk.

Planet of the Apes: A Mirror for 21st Century Humans
Friday September 22, 2017: 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm
1968 saw the launch of the PLANET OF THE APES phenomenon. Years later this was rebooted with a new trilogy with the final film in the summer of 2017. The original films addressed things like potential nuclear warfare and human self-destruction. This panel will discuss how the rebooted trilogy has tackled contemporary questions, such as animal rights, human violence, dehumanization and genocide.

War and Peace in Science Fiction and Fantasy
Saturday September 23, 2017: 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Based on a prospective course I have created - Since the inception of popular science fiction and fantasy into the human psyche we have gained great insight into our own nature in fantastical ways. Notions of appropriate and inappropriate patriotic behavior, in times of war and peace, as well as varied aspects of weapons of mass destruction, evil, torture and genocide are frequently transmitted by fiction, film and television. This panel will strive to encourage dialogue and debate as well as create a deeper understanding of issues of war and peace using science fiction and fantasy conflict.

Titles of Interest - "Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse"

Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse by Greg Garrett

When humankind faces what it perceives as a threat to its very existence, a macabre thing happens in art, literature, and culture: corpses begin to stand up and walk around. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the Black Death and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died horribly in the trenches. They walked in art inspired by the Holocaust and by the atomic attacks on Japan. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the dead walk in stories of the zombie apocalypse, some of the most ubiquitous narratives of post-9/11 Western culture. Zombies appear in popular movies and television shows, comics and graphic novels, fiction, games, art, and in material culture including pinball machines, zombie runs, and lottery tickets.

The zombie apocalypse, Greg Garrett shows us, has become an archetypal narrative for the contemporary world, in part because zombies can stand in for any of a variety of global threats, from terrorism to Ebola, from economic uncertainty to ecological destruction. But this zombie narrative also brings us emotional and spiritual comfort. These apocalyptic stories, in which the world has been turned upside down and protagonists face the prospect of an imminent and grisly death, can also offer us wisdom about living in a community, present us with real-world ethical solutions, and invite us into conversation about the value and costs of survival. We may indeed be living with the living dead these days, but through the stories we consume and the games we play, we are paradoxically learning what it means to be fully alive.

Introduction: Raising the Dead
Chapter 1: Life, Death, and Zombies: Who Are the Walking Dead?
Chapter 2: Hungry for Each Other: How Zombie Stories Encourage Community
Chapter 3: Carrying the Fire: The Ethics of the Zombie Apocalypse
Chapter 4: And In the End: Is the Zombie Apocalypse Good or Bad?
Chapter 5: Conclusion: Living with the Living Dead

"The Strain" and Recanted Faith

Last night "Belly of the Beast," Episode 5 in Season 4 of The Strain aired. Once again this series included a theological nugget. This one came via the scene where Abraham Setrakian was laying in a hospital bed where he was discovered by Thomas Eichorst, his long-time vampiric enemy. Eichorst had previously lost track of Setrakian for a few months, and this represented an opportunity for him to finally kill him as he lay there helpless. Although Eichorst intended to kill Setrakian, whether he did it quickly or slowly depending upon something he wanted Setrakian to do for him. The viewer might be thinking Eichorst was looking for some kind of intelligence information that would help him destroy the last of Setrakian's colleagues working to destroy The Master. But this was not the case. Instead, Eichorst said he would kill Setrakian quickly if he confessed there was no God. Setrakian refused, and defiantly told Eichorst that hell awaited him. Eichorst was unphazed, repeating his belief that God does not exist.

I found this brief interlude of interest. Eichorst's attempts at getting his soon-to-be-deceased victims to deny their faith has happened before. See the links below to my previous discussions of this. Once again the strained Catholicism of Guillermo del Toro's childhood flows through his work.

Related posts:

Contagious Vampires and Impotent Religion in "The Strain"

Religious tensions expressed again in "The Strain"

CFA: Gothic Animals: Uncanny Otherness and the Animal With-Out

The boundary between the animal and the human has long been unstable, especially since the Victorian period. Where the boundary is drawn between human and animal is itself an expression of political power and dominance, and the ‘animal’ can at once express the deepest fears and greatest aspirations of a society' (Victorian Animal Dreams, 4).

'The animal, like the ghost or good or evil spirit with which it is often associated, has been a manifestation of the uncanny' (Timothy Clark, 185).

In the mid nineteenth-century Charles Darwin published his theories of evolution. And as Deborah Denenholz Morse and Martin A. Danahay suggest, 'The effect of Darwin’s ideas was both to make the human more animal and the animal more human, destabilizing boundaries in both directions' (Victorian Animal Dreams, 2). Nineteenth-century fiction quickly picked up on the idea of the 'animal within' with texts like R.L. Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and H. G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau. In these novels the fear explored was of an unruly, defiant, degenerate and entirely amoral animality lying (mostly) dormant within all of us. This was our animal-other associated with the id: passions, appetites and capable of a complete disregard for all taboos and any restraint. As Cyndy Hendershot states, this 'animal within' 'threatened to usurp masculine rationality and return man to a state of irrational chaos' (The Animal Within, 97). This however, relates the animal to the human in a very specific, anthropocentric way. Non-humans and humans have other sorts of encounters too, and even before Darwin humans have often had an uneasy relationship with animals. Rats, horses, dogs, cats, birds and other beasts have, as Donna Haraway puts it a way of 'looking back' at us (When Species Meet,19).

Animals of all sorts have an entirely different and separate life to humans and in fiction this often morphs into Gothic horror. In these cases it is not about the 'animal within' but rather the animal 'with-out'; Other and entirely incomprehensible. These non-human, uncanny creatures know things we do not, and they see us in a way it is impossible for us to see ourselves. We have other sorts of encounters with animals too: we eat animals, imbibing their being in a largely non-ritualistic, but possibly still magical way; and on occasion, animals eat us. From plague-carrying rats, to 'filthy' fleas, black dogs and killer bunnies, animals of all sorts invade our imaginations, live with us (invited or not) in our homes, and insinuate themselves into our lives. The mere presence of a cat can make a home uncanny. An encounter with a dog on a deserted road at night can disconcert. The sight of a rat creeping down an alley carries all sorts of connotations as does a cluster of fat, black flies at the window of a deserted house. To date though, there is little written about animals and the Gothic, although they pervade our fictions, imaginations and sometimes our nightmares.

This collection is intended to look at all sorts of animals in relation to the Gothic: beasts, birds, sea-creatures, insects and domestic animals. We are not looking for transformative animals – no werewolves this time – rather we want essays on fictions about actual animals that explore their relation to the Gothic; their importance and prominence within the Gothic. We invite abstracts for essays that cover all animal/bird/insect/fish life forms, from all periods (from the early Modern to the present), and within different types of media – novels, poetry, short stories, films and games.

Topics may include (but are not bound by):

Rats (plague and death)
Dogs (black and otherwise)
Killer bunnies
Uncanny cats
Alien sea creatures
Cows (perhaps with long teeth)
Killer frogs
Beetles, flies, ants, spiders
Snakes and toads
Animals as marginalised and oppressed
Animals in peril
Animal and human intimacies and the breaking of taboos
Exotic animals/animals in colonial regions (Africa, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, India)
Demonic animals
Dangerous animals (rabid dogs, venomous snakes, wolves)
Invasive animals
Animals and disease
Domestic animals
Uncanny animals
Animals connected to supernatural beings (Satanic goats, vampire bats)
Witchcraft and familiar spirits/animal guides
Rural versus urban animals
Sixth sense and psychic energy

Please send 500 word abstracts and a short bio note by 1 November 2017 to: Dr Ruth Heholt ( and Dr Melissa Edmundson ( Deadline for submissions November 1st, 2017. The collection is intended for the Palgrave MacMillan 'Studies in Animals and Literature' series. Completed essays must be submitted by 1 July 2018.

Trailer for del Toro's "The Shape of Water" echoes the Gill-man

This looks very interesting. I'm a huge del Toro fan, hence my edited book The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro. But this looks like his unique twist and nod to one of his favorite films, The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

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