This site is the virtual home of ENG290 Horror, an English course I teach at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. (I, by the way, am Gina Brandolino, a lecturer in the Department of English the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.)
This course gets scarier every time I teach it. I originally envisioned it focusing on terrifying figures in English literature, starting with the monster Grendel in Beowulf, going through Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Rossetti’s Goblin Market, Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, and James’s The Turn of the Screw, and ending up with Morrison’s Beloved. That version of the course, said my students, was not scary enough—and then they recommended texts to add to it. Every class has improved the reading list for this course with their recommendations, as have friends and colleagues, too. One hope I have for this blog is that it be a place to give credit to folks who improve this course by introducing me to their own favorite scary stories.
The ways this course has transformed from my first envisioning of it have made me realize that, though texts that count as “literature” can make good horror, not all good horror gets counted as “literature.” There are still elements of that first reading list in the course as I am teaching it this semester, but the focus is no longer solely on traditional literary genres like poetry, novels, and short stories; it also includes popular genres like films, comics, graphic novels, and stories that are told online though YouTube videos and blogs. All these texts are fantastic horror stories, though many would argue that they do not all count as “literature.”
That brings me to one of the primary goals of this course. Horror is often seen as “lowbrow,” not warranting serious thought or standing up to scholarly scrutiny. These are, I think, false and unfair accusations. The great American writer Flannery O’Connor said that “in the long run, a people is known . . . by the stories it tells,” suggesting that stories reveal a great deal about the culture that tells them. This is interesting in and of itself, but especially when applied to scary stories; horrifying figures in stories can reveal what scares the cultures which produced them, can help us understand why something is considered frightening, and can also demonstrate the ways that dread is negotiated, surrendered to, and defeated. Of course, these are not the only ways that horror operates in a text, but they are some of the most telling ways it does. Accordingly, my course explores what horror stories can tell us about our own fears and values or, for more historical texts, the fears and values of the cultures that produced the stories. This blog is one of the forums where my students and I will engage the questions horror raises; I hope others will follow and join in our conversations here.
I administer the blog,and I’l write some posts, too, but so will my students–current and former–as well as friends of the course interested in what we are up to. Please contact me if you are interested in writing a post.
There are a few categories listed on the home page (click on “Be Scared”) which I’d like to call to your attention.
- First, if you are a current student, there is a category named after the semester (i.e., “Fall 2014”) dedicated to our class.
- The final assignment for this course asks students to recommend a text for me to add to this course; if I add the text, I ask the student who recommended it to write a blog post about it. You’ll find these posts under “Student-Recommended Texts.”
- I am always ruminating on ways to revise this course, and one part of this is thinking up new units. You will find ideas for these under the category “New Units?” Currently, the course has the units “Deals with the Devil,” which is just what it sounds like; “Human Monsters,” which features stories in which the sinister figures are just people, not supernatural; “Stalking Terrors,” in which all the stories feature evil that relentlessly hounds its victims; and “Really Scary, or Really Crazy?”, which features stories that are very scary if you can believe the reliability of the narrator–and the narrator’s iffy reliability is part of the terror.
Please join us and follow the Course of Horror!