Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural

Overview

The Gothic, Romanticism's gritty older sibling, has flourished in myriad permutations since the eighteenth century. In Gothicka, Victoria Nelson identifies the revolutionary turn it has taken in the twenty-first. Today's Gothic has fashioned its monsters into heroes and its devils into angels. It is actively reviving supernaturalism in popular culture, not as an evil dimension divorced from ordinary human existence but as part of our daily lives.

To explain this millennial shift...

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Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural

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Overview

The Gothic, Romanticism's gritty older sibling, has flourished in myriad permutations since the eighteenth century. In Gothicka, Victoria Nelson identifies the revolutionary turn it has taken in the twenty-first. Today's Gothic has fashioned its monsters into heroes and its devils into angels. It is actively reviving supernaturalism in popular culture, not as an evil dimension divorced from ordinary human existence but as part of our daily lives.

To explain this millennial shift away from the traditionally dark Protestant post-Enlightenment Gothic, Nelson studies the complex arena of contemporary Gothic subgenres that take the form of novels, films, and graphic novels. She considers the work of Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer, graphic novelists Mike Mignola and Garth Ennis, Christian writer William P. Young (author of The Shack), and filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. She considers twentieth-century Gothic masters H. P. Lovecraft, Anne Rice, and Stephen King in light of both their immediate ancestors in the eighteenth century and the original Gothic-the late medieval period from which Horace Walpole and his successors drew their inspiration.

Fictions such as the Twilight and Left Behind series do more than follow the conventions of the classic Gothic novel. They are radically reviving and reinventing the transcendental worldview that informed the West's premodern era. As Jesus becomes mortal in The Da Vinci Code and the child Ofelia becomes a goddess in Pan's Labyrinth, Nelson argues that this unprecedented mainstreaming of a spiritually driven supernaturalism is a harbinger of what a post-Christian religion in America might look like.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Higher Education

A fun, well-written and original read that offers flashes of insight.
— Deborah D. Rogers

Wall Street Journal

[A] spirited examination of the role of pulp Gothic fiction in contemporary culture...Nelson's overview of the origins of the Gothic genre and its later ramification into sub-genres such as the ghost story, vampire tale, esoteric thriller and post-apocalyptic survival narrative is lively and sharp. She is equally at home discussing high and low art, and is at her most persuasive when tracing the literary evolution of specific motifs.
— Elizabeth Lowry

Literary Review

Nelson knows her turf and, unlike many academics who dine below the salt, she gives the impression of being genuinely affectionate towards her disreputable subject matter. She is sometimes thought-provoking and has clearly read more proper historians and solid thinkers than most pop-culture pundits.
— Kevin Jackson

Jeffrey J. Kripal
There are other books in the field of religion and popular culture, but none really do what Nelson does, that is, point out that strictly secular, Marxist, materialist, or psychological readings will no longer do. This is the real genius or daemon of this book. Nelson's voice is without peer in this domain--she is carving out a most unique and most brave stance.
Harold Bloom
This is an admirable, strong, and original book, a worthy sequel to The Secret Life of Puppets. Nelson's prose is clear and restrained, very winning and illuminating of the dark corners in 21st-century America and beyond in a stricken world. I can think of no rival works this substantial.
Marina Warner
Gothicka is a spirited and illuminating successor to Nelson's highly original previous study, The Secret Life of Puppets. It picks up on many of the lines of thought in Puppets and applies them to opening up some of the most successful books and films of the last three decades, works which, while being read by millions, have not received much critical or scholarly attention. Nelson is preeminent in her knowledge of this field where the study of contemporary religion fuses with mass media and bestseller culture, and Gothicka is a terrific, original, eye-opening, and entertaining work.
Times Higher Education - Deborah D. Rogers
A fun, well-written and original read that offers flashes of insight.
Wall Street Journal - Elizabeth Lowry
[A] spirited examination of the role of pulp Gothic fiction in contemporary culture...Nelson's overview of the origins of the Gothic genre and its later ramification into sub-genres such as the ghost story, vampire tale, esoteric thriller and post-apocalyptic survival narrative is lively and sharp. She is equally at home discussing high and low art, and is at her most persuasive when tracing the literary evolution of specific motifs.
Literary Review - Kevin Jackson
Nelson knows her turf and, unlike many academics who dine below the salt, she gives the impression of being genuinely affectionate towards her disreputable subject matter. She is sometimes thought-provoking and has clearly read more proper historians and solid thinkers than most pop-culture pundits.
Choice - L. J. Larson
With this brilliant encyclopedic study of gothic literature, film, and culture, Nelson continues the exploration of the gothic she began in The Secret Life of Puppets. Although (as she states) she does not try to survey, or position herself within, the area of gothic scholarship, her scholarship is solid, referencing major scholars such as Fred Botting. This is not dry, difficult reading; the book can be enjoyed by anyone interested in the gothic, including aspects of it that have not been extensively explored. Nelson focuses mainly on 21st-century examples, while providing an excellent background of earlier works and connecting them to contemporary works in unusual ways. In addition to cultural crazes such as Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series and Dan Brown's novels, she includes chapters on gothic performance art such as the Christian 'Hell House,' which she connects to the medieval European mystery plays. Including extended discussions of Guillermo del Toro's films, William Young's unusual Christian novel The Shack, and new interpretations of Lovecraft and his influence, the book provides a refreshing exploration of a subject that has in recent years tended to be overdone.
Times Literary Supplement - Max Fincher
In Gothicka, [Nelson] shows how contemporary films, video games, graphic novels and television series have reinvented and transformed the Catholic iconography of the late medieval period and how the Gothic has even offered 'a vehicle for developing the frameworks of new religious movements.'
Quarterly West - Whitney Borup
Gothicka is a well-articulated, compelling argument towards a new understanding of the Gothic as a spiritual portal.
Junot Díaz
Where else can Vijay Mishra's The Gothic Sublime trade shadows with Stephenie Meyer's vampires and Guillermo del Toro's grotesqueries except in the mysterium tremendum of Nelson's astounding Gothicka? A book of delirious erudition that establishes the Gothic at the heart of our civilization and then proceeds to trace in our vampires, our saviors, our zombies, our medieval conspiracies, our superheroes, and our monsters how the contemporary Gothic is shedding the dark supernaturalism of its origins, a brightening that not only reveals our present obsessions but also seems to portend the dawning of a new kind of post-Christian spirituality. Provocative, forward-looking and masterful.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674050143
  • Publisher: Harvard
  • Publication date: 4/23/2012
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,482,767
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Victoria Nelson is an independent scholar living in California. She has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, at the University of Hawaii.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter Six: The Bright God Beckons: The New Vampire Romance


To bring this transformation about, Meyer pulls various bright threads from a tapestry of story traditions originating in the folktales, religious apocrypha, and legends of premodern Western culture, some via the Gothick and some not. The first of these threads is one we have already seen: Bella is the bride of Death. She’s in love, after all, with a being whose deepest instinct is to kill her. In the classic vampire story, the woman who is seduced by a vampire dies, horribly, only to become one of the undead herself. By the 1990s, the new convention of “feeding without killing” allowed a female protagonist to have a vampire lover without having to die and become a vampire herself; she could now be the girlfriend of Death, not the bride, and suffer no fatal consequences. Bella follows Lucy Westenra’s path through death and out the other side without becoming either a victim or a monster.

The presence of another ancient trope in the Twilight series helps subliminally underscore Bella’s overdetermined role as the bride of Death. It appears in the two striking physical qualities Meyer’s vampires possess. First, in daylight they don’t turn to dust; rather, they sparkle beautifully “like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface.” The sparkling body has immediate associations with the diamond or rainbow body of Tibetan Buddhism, the normally invisible sheath surrounding the physical body that connects consciousness to the transcendent realm. After death, the diamond body, like the Christian resurrection body or the Gnostic “radiant” astral body, promises immortality. The fact that the vampires’ diamond bodies are visible to the naked eye in daylight strongly suggests they belong to some category of the divine, not the demonic. In accordance with a number of esoteric religious traditions, they have reached the highest state of human development on earth, in which, in the words of a contemporary Theosophist, “enlightenment becomes a literal fact through the transubstantiation of flesh and blood into an immortal body of light.”

Second, building on a convention established by Rice, Meyer’s vampires look and feel like statues. Edward’s chiseled beauty does not recall the sinister figures of Dracula or Lestat but rather the classic outlines of a Renaissance statue, “carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal”; his body is “hard and cold—and perfect—as an ice sculpture.” The words “marble,” “statue,” and “perfect” repeat over and over, creating the sense of a moving idol (and statues, recall, are the material doubles of divinities, thought to draw down and possess their special powers) who is bright and beautiful. Bella says cuddling with him feels like “snuggling with Michelangelo’s David, except that this perfect marble creature wrapped his arms around me to pull me closer.”

The motif of loving a statue has been around since Ovid’s story of Pygmalion and his stone bride, picked up in the Old Goth French dream vision poem Roman de la Rose and circulated in other medieval works along with myriad popular tales of loving an image of either Venus or Mary, the result being taking holy vows (if the statue was of Mary) or death (if it was Venus). The nineteenth-century French writer Prosper Mérimee gave the story a typically Gothick twist in his “Venus d’Ille” (1837), about a thoughtless bridegroom who puts his wedding ring on the finger of a blackened, recently excavated Roman statue as a joke, only to find the unamused Goddess of Love crushing him to death (just as Edward fears he will do to Bella) in the course of demanding her erotic due. As Kenneth Gross puts it, in these stories “certain qualities of the statue begin to catch hold of those around it...The living statue turns living persons to stone or brings about their death.”

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 White Dog, the Prequel 1

Between Imagination and Belief

2 Faux Catholic 21

A Gothick Genealogy from Monk Lewis to Dan Brown

3 Gothick Gods 45

The Worshipful World of Horror Fandom

4 Decommissioning Satan 73

In Favor of His Man-God Whelps

5 Gothick Romance 95

The Danse Macabre of Women

6 The Bright God Beckons 117

The New Vampire Romance

7 Postapocalyptic Gothick 149

That Means Zombies (and the Occasional Zampire)

8 The Gothick Theater of Halloween 169

Performing Allegory

9 The Ten Rules of Sitges 189

Global Gothick Horror and Beyond

10 Cathedral Head 219

The Gothick Cosmos of Guillermo del Toro

11 The New Christian Gothick 239

The Shack and Other Cathedrals

12 Epilogue 261

Questions without Answers

Notes 269

Acknowledgments 319

Index 321

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