From Centaurs to Superheroes Metamorphosis, Monsters & The Supernatural Everyday
We dream of becoming something other than what we are. To be human is to be in love with transformation. That love of becoming something other, of transforming ourselves from one thing into another, infuses our literature since the first artists took up ochre and charcoal to sketch out a half-man, half-beasts on a cave wall. In this seminar we will try to grasp and analyze this urge to transform, metamorphose and transcend, from prehistory to the gaudy metamorphoses of Ovid and Virgil to the elaborate composite creatures of the medieval mind and up through the monsters and superheroes that populate the Victorian mind (Mary Shelley’s New Prometheus, Stevenson's Mr. Hyde and Stoker's Count Dracula, among others) -- and finally to the supermen and batmen, vampires, werewolves and X-men that populate to bursting our teeming contemporary imagination.
From Centaurs to Superheroes
& The Supernatural Everyday
Fall 2014, Tuesday 10:10 am- 12:30 pm, Albee 106
Class Requirements This is a seminar – a discussion class - which means
the success of the class is dependent on student participation. The most
important requirements are that students
*Attend all class sessions
*Participate in discussions
*Do all reading and writing assignments
student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion,
together with the thoroughness of his or her preparation, will determine
the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade.
Schedule Note that all classes will take place on Tuesday mornings, 10:10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Students will be assigned one final paper, for which they are meant to
draw on the assigned reading and on class discussions. There may be the
occasional in-class quiz. To bolster the clarity and vigor of your
English prose, I strongly suggest reading two works: George Orwell’s
essay, “Politics and the English Language” and Strunk and White’s little
manual, The Elements of Style. The Orwell can be found easily on the
Films From time to time during the term we will screen films intended to complement our studies. Times will be announced.
Apuleius. The Golden Ass. [aka The Transformations] New Haven: Yale UP, 2013 [c.170].
Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013 .
Miller, Frank. Batman: Year One. De Luxe ed. New York: DC Comics, 2007.
Ovid. The Metamorphoses. Trans. Stanley Lombardo. New York: Hackett, 2010.
Shaw, Bernard. George Bernard Shaw's Plays. Norton ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Norton ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013 .
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Norton ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996 ..
Tatar, Maria. The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999 .
Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Norton ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006 .
Woolf, Virginia. Orlando: A Biography. Annotated ed. Orlando, FL: Mariner, 2006 .
Possible Additional Texts
Bulgakov, Mikhail, The Heart of a Dog. New York: Melville House, 2013 
Calvino, Italo Cosmicomics. New York: Harcourt, 1968 .
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Norton Critical Edition, New York: Norton, 2012 .
September 9: Introduction
- Passed out and went over the syllabus for class.
- In-class reading: After Ovid: New Metamorphoses
- Ideas of change inform all fiction/myth.
- Analyzed After Ovid: New Metamorphoses and how its depiction of classic gods differed from other works.
- Meta • morph • ossis
- Change ? form
September 16: Apuleius. The Golden Ass. [aka The Transformations] New Haven: Yale UP, 2013 [c.170].
Discussion: The Golden Ass
- Mixes Greek storytelling with the Milesian Mode
- various stories weaved together to form an epic
- Has a central theme of base fascination being inferior to spiritual devotion
- Transformation as a method of justice
September 23: Ovid. The Metamorphoses. (-end of book 8) Trans. Stanley Lombardo. Hackett, 2010. [c.1]
Discussion: The Metamorphoses (first half)
- Ovid was exiled after writing The Metamorphoses due to it not falling in line with Augustin thought of the afterlife.
- Ovid repeats his story structure throughout his works
- Grand story with tinier vignettes
- Gods are embodiments of the base human ideas
- Male gods are extremely lustful while female gods are constantly jealous
- The Metamorphoses is a faux epic due to no epic hero
September 30: Ovid. The Metamorphoses. Trans. (- end) Stanley Lombardo. Hackett, 2010. [c.1]
Discussion: The Metamorphoses
- Deeper exploration of the suggested story structures
• Prologue: 1 - 4
• Intro: 5 - 451
• 1.Gods: 1. 452 - 6. 420
• 2. Heroes: 6. 421 - 11. 193
• 3. Historical: 11. 194 - 15. 870
• Epilogue: 15. 871 - 879
- The story has a “funnel shape” to it.
- It starts with the genesis of everything and then ends with Augustus and Ovid
- Also a story of how the known world went from chaos to become ancient Greece and then the Roman empire
7: “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cinderella,” pp. 25-73 and 101-137 in
Tatar, Maria. The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. 1st ed. New
York: W.W. Norton, 1999 .
Discussion: Beauty & The Beast
- Fairy-tales are called such because they often contain fairies
- Fairy comes from the word “fata” which means fate
- fairy tales are different from literature because they survive via oral tradition and are constantly changing
- Is classified as folklore type 425C
- Often characterized by the following
• 1. The Monster as husband
• 2. Disenchantment of monster
• 3. Loss of husband
• 4. Search for husband
• 5. Recovery
- The story represents anxiety over pre-arranged marriage, the social norm at the time
October 14: No Class (Fall Break)
October 21: No Class
October 28: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Norton Critical Edition, New York: Norton, 2012 .
- Many critics thought it was written by a male due to it not being “moralistic”
- Reading into the subtext reveals an anxiety about giving birth
- What if the child is a monster?
- Can be linked to Marry Shelly being impregnated by Percy Shelly while he was married to another woman
- his wife's suicide let Marry marry Percy and stop being ostracized
- Framing device of the book
- Robert Walton > Vicktor Frankenstein > Creature's story < Frankenstein < Walton < Creature
- Built around doublings (sorta like two halves of the same character)
- central doubling: Frankenstein and the creature, mirrors most origin myths/faust legend
- fallen Adam (Frankenstein) creates life in the form of Eve from himself (the monster)
- The creature seems to believe people are inherently good until "knowledge" makes them evil
- Parallels between Shelly's own life and the creatures
- rejection by a man
- feeling like an outcast
- death of a child
November 4: Alice in Wonderland. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013 .
Discussion: Alice in Wonderland
- Written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll
- stammering, nervous, math teacher
- speculation on whether he was a pedophile
- definitely had pictures of nude children, but no record of any actual abuse
- was friends with little girls his whole life, and stayed in touch with them over their lives
- his family cut out pages from his diary
- one such page contained information of some crisis that stopped
Dodgson from visiting one of his child friends (Alice) from there after
- Metaphor for childhood
- it exists as a parallel "world" to the real one
- children see the world completely different and co-exist with us
- Takes proverbs literally and utilizes puns
11: Stevenson, Robert. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 
/Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Norton ed. New York: W.W.
Norton, 2006 .
Discussion: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
- Big metamorphosis at the beginning (the initial transformation)
- levels of metamorphosis with Hyde and Jekyll constantly switching back and forth
- other characters/levels make the narrative like circles on circles
- Hyde the focus of deformity
- a sense of evil that people can sense immediately
- ex: the doctor that wants to immediately kill Hyde
- Moralistic book
- very clear line between good and evil
- Jekyll & Hyde arent' different people, different sides of the same person
- Wanting to have your good and bad sides separate is really a cry to do evil without remorse
Discussion: The Picture of Dorian Grey
- Plays into the Victorian idea of repressing one's inner/base desires
- maybe Dorian Grey wins in the end, maybe not, who knows
Night of November 11: Watched Dorian Grey 
November 25: Bulgakov, Mikhail, The Heart of a Dog. New York: Melville House, 2013 
Discussion: The Heart of a Dog
- most of Mikhail Bulgakov's (Russian) writings were never published in his life time
- experienced all the devastation of the first world war and suffered a wound that he treated with lots of morphine
- the emotional fallout of this transformed into the revolution
- Stallin liked his writings so much he protected him
- can see parts of Frankenstein, Metamorphosis, Faust, & Island of Dr. Monroe within
-chngun/cast iron; reference to Stalin
is an allegory for the failure of the Communist revolution in Russia
- rejuvenation = rebellion
- Sharik/dog = communism
2: Woolf, Virginia. Orlando: A Biography. Annotated ed. Orlando, FL:
Mariner, 2006 / Calvino, Italo Cosmicomics. New York: Harcourt,
- It was a legal risk to write about gay relationships
- deleted references to certain lusts to avoid censorship
- Wish fulfillment for Virginia Woolf
- explores Woolf's relationship with Vita Sackville-West
- longest love letter in history
- main character is meant to be Vita
- The poem "The Oak Tree" written by Orlando in the book is about an oak tree that persists throughout the book
- immortality of art
- the tree changes but is always the same tree
- parallelisms yo
- Shakespeare pops up as a commentary on the immortality of art
- While Orlando's sexuality keeps changing he/she is always Orlando
- Written by Italo Calvino, born 1923 in Italy
-parents were scientists, explains all the science factoids throughout the book
- Written in the 60s
- influenced by the space race
- Continual theme of desire
- desire drives the universe
- love triangles
Night of December 3: Watched Orlando 
- Class hated it despite it being critically acclaimed
December 9: Miller, Frank. Batman: Year One. De Luxe ed. New York: DC Comics, 2007.
- Can never kill, but he can torture
- does he go too far?
- Superheroes = metamorphosis in normal human
- goes through metamorphosis when his parents are killed
- trains, finds the symbol of the Bat after his first night out fighting crime
- reflection of the morals of the time
- character inspired by Zorro, Sherlock Holmes, The Shadow, Dracula, Robin Hood & The Scarlet Pimpernel
Survey of Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
1880’s poster - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Dr_Jekyll_and_Mr_Hyde_poster_edit2.jpg
1908 movie poster - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/83/JekyllHyde1931.jpg
Survey of Batman