Current Issue

JFA 32.1 (2021)

Introduction: Looking Again

Brian Attebery

Look again! might be the watchword of all critical writing. We are in the business of reexamining stories, poems, movies, games from shifted perspectives and in new contexts. In class, for those of us who are teachers, we do not teach reading but rather rerereading: how to go back to the text paying closer attention and posing a more challenging set of questions. This works because texts are interactive and open-ended. My Frankenstein is not your Frankenstein: they might not even belong to the same genre. The Lord of the Rings I read at 14 is not the same one I come back to now. It is Heraclitus’s river, ever new every time one steps into it.

All of the articles in this issue represent second, or third, looks at classic texts. In each case, the story we think we know turns out to be something unexpected when we bring new evidence to bear on it or new lenses to look through. The lens Jonathan Hay brings to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish stories is postcolonial theory. Oddly enough, the colonial basis of the Hainish universe has hardly been examined, or has been seen as a basically benevolent enterprise. Hay takes us through the decades-long sweep of future history and shows how it altered from its mid-century beginnings, in which Le Guin uncritically adopted the science fictional consensus about humanity spreading through the galaxy, through Cold War reexaminations such as The Word for World Is Forest and into postcolonial questioning even of the deliberately non-hierarchical and decentralized Ekumen. Le Guin was always a questioner of her own assumptions—as evidenced by the self-critical and feminist turn midway through her Earthsea cycle—and Hay encourages us to see the same relentless self-examination at work in the politics of the Hainish universe.

Sean Rhoads offers a similar look back at a text by a writer who established his reputation by creating vast philosophical space operas, although the work at hand is Dan Simmons’s historical horror novel The Terror. Rhoads’s reading traces connections both backward and forward from the novel’s publication date of 2007. Establishing links with the actual history of the doomed Franklin expedition into Arctic seas as well as with Frankenstein and its Gothic lineage, Rhoads also makes reference to recent cultural and environmental changes that alter the way we read Simmons’s tale. Global warming, feminist critique, and postcolonial rethinking of Indigenous history all come into play as Rhoads rereads The Terror as an ironic version of the Gothic. Whatever ironies Simmons intended in his look backward, those ironies are compounded as we read in a world of melting icecaps and increasing attention to the native knowledges and Indigenous technologies that might be our lifeline.

Jude Wright’s “Unbridling the Bride” takes up another text that interacts with Mary Shelley’s Gothic, proto-science fictional tale and its various adaptations and offshoots. Exploring one of the plot arcs in John Logan’s series Penny Dreadful, Wright looks at the way the show invokes Frankenstein to represent both female empowerment and masculine fear of that same power. As he says, “Logan’s Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein arc articulates a proto-feminist and feminist narrative of self-assertion while simultaneously undercutting this narrative through recourse to late-Victorian representations of female monstrosity.” The TV series thus asks us to reread a text we thought we knew in the light of changing conceptions of gender and science in much the same way (though with a darker tone) as Theodora Goss’s more liberated revision of Gothic conventions in a series beginning with The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017). In both cases, we have no choice but to rethink the source material: the TV show and the novels investigate what is already happening culturally.

In Jake Poller’s “A Kind of Magic,” the source material is the fiction and legend-encrusted life of H. P. Lovecraft, and the rethinking comes first through appropriations of Lovecraft by true-believing occultists and second through the attempt by Alan Moore to critique their claims in his 2017 graphic novel Providence. Ironically, Moore’s critique comes in the form of a narrative in which Lovecraft’s supernatural realms are real and his imaginary scenarios prophetic. As Poller points out, Moore’s version of the Chthulu mythos “gleefully reverses the psychoanalytic paradigm, in which dreams are symbols of the unconscious, so that the phenomena of dreams are literal referents rather than metphors or metonyms.” By giving precedence to the creative artist rather than the psychoanalytic critic, Moore clears away a lot of assumptions about the imagination but at the same time seems to endorse a mystical viewpoint that Lovecraft himself would have denied. Compounding the irony, the text that seems to validate the truth-value of Lovecraft’s version of the occult even over its creator’s skeptical objections is itself a work of the imagination. This is the Lovecraft of our time: wrapped about with fan theories and creative homages in ways that make him perhaps more significant than the quality of his own work might warrant.

In our final essay, film scholar J. P. Telotte asks us to rethink the history of science fiction as primarily a print phenomenon. Telotte asks us to read fiction from the pulp magazines as products of the same historical trends as movies from the silent and early sound era, and he demonstrates how aware of such parallels were writers such as Henry Kuttner. Kuttner’s own fiction attempts to translate into narrative form his understanding—evident also in his film reviews—of the revolutionary nature of cinematic representations of time and space. All of this would have been part of the direct experience of Kuttner, editor Hugo Gernsback, and their readers, but for us, decades later, it must be reconstructed through historical research. In this case, history itself is revision, and Telotte offers a fresh new (because old) perspective on familiar and half-forgotten texts.

Articles

Introduction: Looking Again
Brian Attebery

Neocolonial Auspices: Rethinking the Ekumen in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle
Jonathan Hay

“There is a demon out there on the ice in the dark”: Monstrous Horrors, Climate Change, and Gothic Irony in Dan Simmons’s The Terror
Sean Rhoads

Unbridling the Bride: Feminism and Patriarchy in Penny Dreadful’s Frankenstein Narrative
Jude Wright

A Kind of Magic: Dreams and the Occult in Alan Moore’s Providence
Jake Poller

Scientifilm and the Pulps: Developing a Composite Gaze
J. P. Telotte

Reviews

Katherine E. Bishop, David Higgins, and Jerry Määttä’s Plants in Science Fiction: Speculative Vegetation
Rev. by Shelby Brewster

Pauline Greenhill’s Reality, Magic, and Other Lies: Fairy-tale Film Truths
Rev. by Teresa Cutler-Broyles

Audrey Isabel Taylor’s Patricia A. McKillip and the Art of Fantasy World-Building
Rev. by Nathaniel Harrington

Mayako Murai and Luciana Cardi’s Re-Orienting the Fairy Tale: Contemporary Adaptations Across Cultures
Rev. by Raven Johnston

John R. Ziegler’s Queering the Family in The Walking Dead
Rev. by Mary F. McGinnis

Claire Nally’s Steampunk: Gender, Subculture, and the Neo-Victorian
Rev. by Adam McLain

Regina Yung Lee and Una McCormack’s Biology and Manners: Essays on the Worlds and Works of Lois McMaster Bujold
Rev. by Karen Stewart

Trevor J. Blank and Lynne S. McNeill’s Slender Man Is Coming: Creepypasta and Contemporary Legends on the Internet
Rev. by Joshua B. Tuttle

Kendra R. Parker’s Black Female Vampires in African American Women’s Novels 1977–2011: She Bites Back
Rev. by Serena I. Volpi

Lorna Piatti-Farnell’s Gothic Afterlives: Reincarnations of Horror in Film and Popular Media
Rev. by Sandra Waters

Megen De Bruin-Molé’s Gothic Remixed: Monster Mashups and Frankenfictions in 21st-Century Culture
Rev. by Natalie Wilson