English 44 - Spring, 2017

Introductory Topics in Literature

    Topic: Occult Fiction

Class Information

Instructor: Dobbins, Gregory
CRN: 71361
Time: TR 4:40-6:00
Location: 216 Wellman


    The focus of this course will be on 'Weird' Fiction, a particular strain of Horror writing which concerns the supernatural and the occult, but is distinct from more specific sub-genres of horror such as ghost stories, vampire stories, or zombie writing. "Weird Fiction", a term invented by H.P. Lovecraft to describe his own writing and influences, is defined by its inexplicability in relation to the supernatural. While there may be a place for ghosts, demons, witches, werewolfs, vampires, or zombies in Weird Fiction (indeed, some of these entities will be making cameo appearances in the course of our reading), they are for the most part known and knowable. What makes Weird Fiction "weird" is the sense that there never really is an adequate explanation for the supernatural events that take place in these narratives-- and because there is something fundamentally unknown about these stories and novels, one must work towards some sort of explanation for the inexplicable as best as one can on the basis of available evidence and clues. This fundamental crux of Weird Fiction will serve in turn as a means for us to consider what it means to interpret fiction in general.

    We will begin with a consideration of how certain canonical European novelists of the 19th century (Flaubert, Huysmans, and Wilde) offer the seeds of Weird Fiction in their novels. We will then go on to focus on H.P. Lovecraft as a central figure to both Weird Fiction and this course itself. As well as some of the better known works of Lovecraft, we will read some of his influences (Ambrose Bierce, Robert W. Chambers, W.B. Yeats, Lord Dunsany), contemporaries (Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, May Sinclair, Daphne Du Maurier), and literary heirs (T.E.D. Klein, Thomas Ligotti). Finally, we will consider the emerging strain of "New Weird Fiction" (China Mieville) in order to consider what it means to be weird now and what weird will mean in the future. While not all of the writers named above will make it onto the final syllabus because of the limited time available to us, most of them will appear, and the books named below will definitely be among those we will read in this course.


    To be determined, but there will definitely be two essays, assorted shorter writing assignments, and a final


    The Temptation of St. Anthony, Gustave Flaubert
    The Damned (La Bas), J.k. Huysmans
    The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
    The White People and Other Stories, Arthur Machen
    The Call of Cthulu and Other Stories, H.P. Lovecraft
    At the Mountains of Madness, H.P. Lovecraft
    Kraken, China Mieville