The Sci-Fi Christian Classroom Goes Goth!

January 13, 2014

Adam: Well, Ben, I hope you had a good Christmas break and have had some time to rest up.

Ben: It was a great holiday. Though as a fellow Catholic, I feel compelled to remind you that at the time we’re writing this, it’s technically still Christmas. So perhaps I should say, it IS a great holiday. Why do you ask?

A: Why? Why?! Because the Sci Fi Christian Classroom is back in session that’s why!!!

B: You do seem excited, Adam. Did Santa leave undiluted caffeine in your stocking?

A: Oh… Maybe that’s what was in those mysterious little bags. Whew, that’s a load off. Anyway, sorry… it’s just, I’m really quite excited about this session. It should be really incredible.

B: One can only hope.

A: I can see I might need to do some convincing. All right. Well, for starters we’re going to a different institution than the site we used last time – coursera.org, which offers free online classes. This time, the SFC Classroom will be attending the “Mythgard Institute.” It’s a sub-division of Signum University, based in New Hampshire. Quoting their website Signum is: “a non-profit, online higher ed institution. We are dedicated to using new methods to make traditional Liberal Arts teaching available to students everywhere. Through technology, Signum aims to bring dynamic, interactive teaching to everyone – at a price people can afford.”

B: I like the word “afford” when combined with education.

A: Yeah, you’re spot-on there. This one does have the disadvantage of not being free, but I’m hoping that what it lacks for in free-ness will be made up for in awesomeness. Cost is $150 to audit a course, but in the interests of full disclosure here, we do need to reveal that you and I are taking this with a 100 percent discount.

B:  I like the idea of “100% discount” even better than “afford” when combined with eductation.

A: As you should. Honestly, we’re getting a huge special consideration here. I happen to know the course instructor professionally – through my volunteer work as assistant editor at the StarShipSofa podcast. Amy H. Sturgis does a fact article for the podcast called “Looking Back in Genre History” which blows me away ever time. She has a Ph.D. at the end of her name and everything and is several orders of magnitude smarter than me. She’s done us the huge favor of giving us complimentary “audit” course enrollment to her course. That means that we get to attend or view all the video and audio lectures after the fact, but we don’t have to write the papers and don’t have to take the final exam. All the fun. None of the work. My kind of course. I wish we could get free enrollment for the whole SFC community, but that’s just not possible – understandably. Just think of Ben and I as your avatars into the Mythgard course.

B: Yes, Thank you Amy. So what’s this class all about, Adam?

A: Oh, heh… yeah… a description would probably be good. Well, suffice it to say that the SFC Classroom is going Goth.

B: My black eyeliner is at the ready…

A: Woah! Hold on. Hmm, I suppose that doesn’t suffice to say. I’m sorry… misspoke. That should be “going Gothic.” The title of the course is “The Gothic Tradition.”

B: Does that mean no black eyeliner?

A: Erm, well, I guess if it floats your boat.

But the difference is huge, although I’m sure you know that and am just humoring me so that I can talk about it.

That’s all right. I’m OK with it.

Here, Amy’s course description will probably give you a pretty good idea of what we’ll be looking at:

“The Gothic literary tradition began in the mid-eighteenth century in Europe and lives on in various forms across the globe through contemporary fiction, poetry, art, music, film, and television. Mad scientists, blasted heaths, abandoned ruins, elusive ghosts, charming vampires, and even little green men people its stories. With ingredients such as a highly developed sense of atmosphere, extreme emotions including fear and awe, and emphases on the mysterious and the paranormal, Gothic works tend to express anxieties about social, political, religious, and economic issues of the time, as well as rejection of prevailing modes of thought and behavior. This course will investigate the fascinating and subversive Gothic imagination (from the haunted castles of Horace Walpole to the threatening aliens of H.P. Lovecraft, from Dracula to Coraline), identify the historical conditions that have inspired it, consider how it has developed across time and place and medium, and explore how it has left its indelible imprint on the modern genres of science fiction and fantasy.”

B: We tend not to cover Gothic or horror much on the SFC but I’m personally a huge fan of it. I think I read every word Stephen King ever published when I was in my teens.

A: Super-awesome. A bit more on what we’ll look at. It’s a 12-week course starting, well, today, and it’s going to trace Gothic traditions from their origins, all the way up through modern works, including television and movies. Works and creators will include Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” H.P. Lovecraft, “Doctor Who” (“Blink”!) Neil Gaiman and “The Orphanage” by Guillermo del Toro. It wraps up the week of March 31. Week by week details and a promo video are here: http://www.mythgard.org/academics/spring-2014-courses/the-gothic-tradition/

What are you most looking forward to talking about?

B: Probably Lovecraft. He’s so influential and I’ve read far too little of his work. I’m excited to dig into it more.

A: For me: Probably Doctor Who, “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman and “The Call of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft – all works I’ve been meaning to get to or really enjoyed. [tag] [Ben response] I have to admit that as a huge Neil Gaiman fan, I’m a bit disappointed by the choice of Coraline. I like the book, but I feel Neverwhere might be the better choice. Though perhaps they consider that a bit too fantasy with not enough Gothic elements. [/Ben response]

A: Only other thing I want to talk about is: Why?

B: Because of Gothic literature is awesome of course! Why wouldn’t we talk about it?

A: Well, what I mean is this: From all this description, Gothic literature seems pretty dark and awfully subversive. How do you see us resolving that with a Christian worldview?

B: Ah, I see what you mean. Let me answer in a couple of ways. First, I think we do need to concede the point that Gothic literature not only seems dark and subversive but IS dark and subversive. The question then, for Christians, is whether or not dark and subversive material is off limits for Christians. I would emphatically say no. Now, I understand not everyone is going to be into this sort of story. There’s plenty of people – Christian or otherwise – who find scary stories too unsettling to engage with. I want to say upfront that I completely respect that choice. That said, there’s a different between saying, “it’s not for me” and saying, “no one should read this.” As Christians, we live in a world that is dark and subversive. There are dark parts in our cultures, our families and ourselves. At its best, Gothic literature has always been about facing that darkness in a safe and, hopefully, constructive way. In the Gothic tradition we find stories with sad – often horrible – endings. Life often features the same sort of endings. We find stories that feature people doing unthinkable things and they remind us that within all of us there is at least an element of the unthinkable. If we believe that stories are meant to help us process our world, ourselves and ultimately our spiritual condition, then Gothic literature is not only appropriate for Christians but is an important genre for Christian reflection.

A: Good answer, I won’t belabor the point any further by adding to it unnecessarily. Well, I think that’s all. See you in class!

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