Archive for the 'interesting stuff' Category

29
Jan
15

Conversation Article: Is it a Birdman? Is it a play? It’s super meta-textuality!

In addition to my interest in early modern English stuff, I also dabble in film criticism.

I recently went to a screening of  Iñárritu’s ‘Birdman’ and loved it. I wrote a piece on metatextuality that has just been published by The Conversation! Check it out here.

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28
Dec
14

Terror at Christmas: Commemorating The Castle of Otranto’s 250th Anniversary

Christmas – a time for one to celebrate with loved ones and friends, to celebrate the warmth of the ‘Christmas Spirit’. For those who work in the field of Gothic studies, Christmas Day is a special occasion. December 25th, 2014 marks the 250th year that Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto has been in print. His ‘Gothic Story’, published under a pseudonym of ‘William Marshall’ on Christmas Day in 1764, would become one of the most influential novels of the eighteenth century. As the ‘father’ of Gothic literature, The Castle Of Otranto is in this regard noteworthy for bringing into fashion a literary mode that exists in some form even today.

 

Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill

Walpole, the son of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, was an antiquarian who had an obsession with artefacts and texts from the Middle Ages. At his behest, Walpole commissioned a Committee of Taste who worked on transforming his estate at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham into the likeness of a castle. The estate remains in the hands of a trust that keeps it maintained to this very day. In the warmer months, tours of the estate are made available for interested visitors.

An 18th Century impression of Strawberry Hill

An 18th Century impression of Strawberry Hill

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Strawberry Hill in 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
  Creating a Gothic Story

Made to look like a castle, Strawberry Hill was one of Walpole’s eccentric creations. But Walpole’s fascination for the Middle Ages extended into his literary interests as well. His ‘Gothic’, or medieval story was set in the Middle Ages, and has several recognisable archetypes of Gothic fiction: a tyrannical villain, damsels in distress, and a brooding, melancholic hero. Embracing ideas that came to him in a dream, Walpole’s novel is an important pre-Romantic text that celebrates the power of the literary imagination over literary realism and verisimilitude.

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past: From A Gothic Story to the Horror Film

The Castle of Otranto’s popularity elicited a string of imitators and others who drew on supernaturalism and terror as inspiration for their works. Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Matthew Lewis’s infamous text The Monk (1796) followed in the Gothic tradition. Lewis would have interactions with Mary Shelley in 1816, two years before the eventual publication of Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Post Modern Prometheus in 1818. Considered to be a pioneering work of Gothic science fiction, Shelley’s Frankenstein would take the Gothic novel away from its often medieval and early modern settings. Subsequently, the Brontes’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were both published in 1847. But of the Victorian Gothic novels published in the nineteenth century, it is perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case Of Jekyll and Hyde (1886) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) that are etched firmly in a twentieth century popular consciousness thanks to the representation of their eponymous characters in film and popular culture, particular in the Hammer Films adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula. The advent of cinema would be a fundamental game changer in the development of narratives of terror.

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Christopher Lee in his iconic role as Count Dracula

Film poster for The Mum

Film poster for The Mummy (1932)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Haunted House in the Twentieth Century

Just how different is Walpole’s haunted castle of Otranto from contemporary Gothic texts? Ridley Scott’s iconic Alien (1979) is in essence a haunted house narrative that takes place in space and in the future. The Overlook, the setting of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller The Shining is a haunted hotel. In Gothic fiction, the idea of a castle as a structure used to shield and protect individuals is subverted. Castles become threatening spaces – Walpole’s novel features a female character fleeing from a tyrannical villain. This trope persists in slasher films such A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996). Despite changes in form, the DNA of contemporary Gothic texts and horror films have inherited the ‘spirit’ of Walpole’s novel in some way or another. Perhaps it is time for Hollywood to take up the challenge of adapting The Castle of Otranto for the big screen?

 

250 Years of Terror

On Christmas Day in 1764, when Horace Walpole published the first manuscript of The Castle of Otranto, he could hardly have guessed the impact that his novel would have on generations to come. Writing against a vein of Enlightenment rationalism, Walpole tapped into the essence of what makes us human – dreams and emotions – and delivered them in a tale of terror, a work that reverberates even till this day. We don’t even need to look to Walpole. Dickens’ Ghosts of Christmas reminds us that, while Christmas is traditionally filled with warmth and happiness, grief and sorrow are at the heart of the human condition. Our fears are what make us who we are, and it is this acknowledgement of this aspect of our humanity that Walpole was trying to present way back in the eighteenth century. While what made Walpole’s text ‘Gothic’ – his medievalist inclinations – is markedly absent from contemporary Gothic texts, his ‘principle engine’ of terror exists, in many shapes and forms, in all forms of culture today.

11
Aug
14

Gothic Confectionery?

Can food be ‘Gothic’? 

The work of Christine McConnell suggests so.

Here is an image of an EDIBLE FACEHUGGER! 

‘Jonesy you little shit you’re staying right here!’

This one looks inspired by Little Shop of Horrors perhaps?

Check out Christine’s Instagram page here!

01
Nov
13

Happy Halloween!

Here’s a creepy Donald Duck clip that weaves madness, despair, cannibalism and murder in a tale about three starving friends. The clip’s odd juxtaposition of horror and humor comes really close to  the spirit of horror vs humor present in Walpole’s Otranto. Enjoy:

 

 

 

04
Oct
13

Treehouse of Horror XXIV Couch Gag

Just came across this on the interwebs. Had to re-post! This opening to The Simpsons references so many horror/gothic/pop culture texts that reads as a great homage to the genre. Embedded are references to Del Toro’s films such as Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Mimic, Blade II, and a blink-and-you’ll miss reference to Pacific Rim. There are also explicit nods to authors such as Poe, Stephen King, and Hitchcock. Great Cthulhu also makes a cameo appearance.

About time someone got together an edited volume on del Toro and the Gothic! Any takers?

01
Sep
13

Strawberry Hill

I waked one morning, in the beginning of last June, from a dream, of which, all I could recover, was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head like mine filled with Gothic story).

– Horace Walpole, 1765.

 

I had the pleasure of visiting Horace Walpole’s estate at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham. The estate has been restored, and is a tourist attraction (mostly locals). Restorations are still being made to the building – his bedroom is one of the works-in-progress. Most other rooms such as the library and several bedrooms are restored. Here are some snaps:

 

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The Castle from the exterior.

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Restored stained glass in the castle’s windows. Note the Gothic arches.

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The Library. The arched frame swings outward, allowing people access to the books behind it.

 

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As part of the experience, I undertook a ‘Twilight Tour’ of the grounds. This is Margo, the director’s cat, who lives on the grounds. I thought it apt that we were joined by a black cat for a night tour of the grounds.

 

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The stained glass stuff.

 

 

 

01
Sep
13

Gothic London

London in the summer time

Call me now, use the satellite

– Red Hot Chilli Peppers, ‘Emit Remmus’

Rather than flood this site with a mass of touristy pictures of London, I’ve decided to give this post a theme : Gothic London. London, to me, exemplifies Walpole’s notion of the fusing of ‘ancient’ and ‘modern’. Unlike cities such as Perth and Singapore, where I’ve spent lots of time in, London is a city that has such a rich history, possibly one of the richest in the world. And so it pleases me to present a ‘Gothic Tour’ of London, a host of things to see that might tickle the fancy of a person interested in Gothic stuff.

 

Crypt Gallery, St Pancras Church

St Pancras Church, Euston Road

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Nestled in the heart of London, off Euston Road, is the St Pancras Crypt Gallery. An actual art gallery in a church. It is a short walk away from the Kings Cross/St Pancras station along Euston Road, on the way west to Paddington. You go around the side of the building and this is what it looks like from the outside. Exhibitions are held there from time to time. Unfortunately, the gallery was closed when I visited it, due to it being Bank Holiday Weekend. For information about exhibitions, check out the Gallery’s website here.

 

Cafe in the Crypt, St Martins in the Fields 
St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 4JJ, United Kingdom

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Nestled in the heart of Trafalgar Square, it’s easy to miss the cafe while walking past. It is directly opposite the entrance to the Portrait Gallery. Walking down a spiral staircase, you are transported into a different world…….

 

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Here, you can chill out in the confines of a restored church crypt and have a coffee, cake, and bask in the cafe’s gloomth.

 

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Inscriptions like these adorn the floors. Amazing. For more information, here is the cafe’s website.

 

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL, United Kingdom
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The Museum has a host of stuff from medieval stuff to samples of Gothic architecture. Some exhibits I found particularly interesting:

 

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Sample of a Gothic arch. This is EVERYWHERE. Exhibit A – arches in Westminster Abbey:

 

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But I digress. More interesting exhibits in the V and A:

 

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The Ars Moriendi (Sixteenth century) – manual describing how people can have a ‘good death’.

 

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A Memento Mori head. You can’t see much from this picture because this exhibit is made of glass, but it is of a woman with a skull superimposed at the back of her head. To get a better idea, imagine Professor Quirrell/Voldermort’s grotesque double head – that is what this glass skull looks like.

 

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Sculpture of Death (Seventeenth Century). This one is interesting in that Death here wields a bow and arrow, and is dressed in shabby rags rather than the clichéd robe-wearing, scythe image of Death.

 

Shakespeare’s Globe
21 New Globe Walk, London, Greater London SE1 9DT, United Kingdom

 

This attraction deserves special mention because of the production that I caught – arguably one of his most ‘Gothic’ plays, Macbeth. The standing tickets were a steal at 5 pounds, and the production was one of the best I have ever seen. I caught an evening show at 7.30 pm, an apt time of day for the experience of the play’s dark subject matter.

 

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My picture is rather blurred, but this is Billy Boyd – who played Pippin in Lord of the Rings! I couldn’t recognise him at first with the excessive facial hair and makeup, but when he recited his lines his identity was unmistakable. His performance brought a slightly comedic turn to Banquo which I had never considered before. One scene that struck me was at the beginning of the play, right after the witches deliver their prophecies and vanish. Banquo and Macbeth then totter off stage, laughing the prophecy off as if it were a joke. It is a constant reminder to me about how live productions can introduce elements of characterisation that go beyond the lines written in a script.

 

So all in all, quite a bit to see in London by way of Gothic stuff. What one can see and experience is directly proportional to the amount of time one can spend – I’m sure I would have found more things to see if I had more time on my hands!




'horror': Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’.

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