JFA 23.3 (2012)

Editor’s Introduction

“Introduction: Delicious Monsters”
Brian Attebery

 One of the common hotel lobby plants is a sprawling giant with deeply cut, heart-shaped leaves. Commonly known as split-leaf philodendron or Swiss cheese plant, its scientific name is Monstera deliciosa, and the name testifies to the fact that the tropical vine sometimes produces fruit, at least when grown outdoors. Monstera is a cousin of Jack-in-the-Pulpits and anthuriums—those scarlet flowers that stick their tongues out of exotic floral arrangements—and like its kin, it has a flower of, shall we say, suggestive shape. The central spike or spadix ripens into the fruit that gives the plant its name: grotesque, hazardous (if not fully ripe, it contains toxic, needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate), and utterly delicious.

At this year’s International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, the theme was the Monstrous Fantastic, and many of the monsters were as exotic and delectable as our Monstera fruit. The Guests of Honor were a distinguished trio who all offered visions of the strange and twisted beings who haunt our dreams and hide our secrets. Writer China Miéville not only provided a reading and a luncheon address but also drew the Lovecraftian image that graced conference t-shirts and book bags. Scholar guest Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, whose work on Medieval culture and on monstrosity was cited in many of the papers I heard, spoke at another luncheon. We are pleased to reproduce both of those talks (at least as much as print can reproduce two fine performances) in this issue. Kelly Link, who has established herself as one of the most distinctive and accomplished voices in contemporary fiction, appeared on panels and read a new ghost story that was simultaneously terrifying, funny, and tragic. Though she did not give a talk, she agreed to an e-mail interview that appears in this issue.

In addition to the addresses by Cohen and Miéville and the conversation with Kelly Link, we offer three articles that could be considered to touch on the monstrous. William Oram writes about Philip Pullman’s Miltonic fantasy known collectively as His Dark Materials. Milton created some pretty spectacular monsters himself, most notably his Promethean version of Satan, and Pullman likewise invokes beings that might be called monstrous, from the theromorphic souls he calls daemons to the harpies that guard the dead. None of these, though, is as terrifying as the human figures that vie for power and casually inflict cruelty, and Oram’s point is that Pullman reaches back through Milton to the humanistic and materialistic tradition represented by the Epicurean philosopher Lucretius.

Daniel Baker invokes monsters in his main title: “Why We Need Dragons.” Developing ideas proposed by China Miéville, among others, Baker looks at fantasy’s potential for embodying progressive rather than conservative political thought. The latter pattern has always troubled me. The human monster who recently murdered seventy-seven people in Norway is said to have been a fantasy fan, a reader of Tolkien and Lovecraft and a player of the multi-user game World of Warcraft. The fault is not in the writers or even the game’s potential for violence, but it behooves those of us who defend fantasy to encourage readers to read widely and critically to counter the insularity and paranoia that find fuel in some fantasy narratives. Baker’s Jamesonian approach encourages such critical readings.

Finally, Tim Miller offers a lighter approach to monsters, though one that may have deeper implications than first appear. Miller invites us to look not at the familiar beast-men and humanoid monsters but at their vegetable counterparts: monstrous plants (though not the Monstera with which I began). Whereas the animal-human chimera highlights our instinctual violence, sexuality, and hunger, the plant monster, according to Miller, shows the frightening side of life itself: the blind forces of growth and reproduction that Aristotle called the vegetable soul.

Our contributors remind us that monsters can be delectable but it is a mistake to treat them as snack food, something to be consumed mindlessly like movie popcorn. The power of the vampire, the zombie, or the knife-wielding maniac is the power of recognition: the awareness that we are all capable of monstrosity. Popular storytelling makes it too easy to forget this fact, to see monsters as either desirably sparkly or so wholly other that they can be mown down like weeds. Great art shows us the beast—or weed—within. Like Monstera, we are not only deliciosa but also dangerous.


Introduction: Delicious Monsters
Brian Attebery

China Miéville: An Introduction, by Mark Bould

On Monsters: Or, Nine or More (Monstrous) Not Cannies
China Miéville

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen: An Introduction, by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock

Undead (A Zombie Oriented Ontology)
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

Kelly Link: An Introduction, by Sydney Duncan

A Conversation with Kelly Link
Brian Attebery and Kelly Link

Pullman’s Matter: Lucretius and Milton in His Dark Materials
William A. Oram

Why We Need Dragons: The Progressive Potential of Fantasy
Daniel Baker

Lives of the Monster Plants: The Revenge of the Vegetable in the Age of Animal Studies
T. S. Miller

Review Essay

The Matter of Mars
Thomas J. Morrissey


Tamaki Saitō’s Beautiful Fighting Girl
Rev. by Paul T. Beattie

Gary K. Wolfe’s Sightings: Reviews 2002–2006
Rev. by Damien Broderick

Sara J. Van Ness’s Watchmen as Literature: A Critical Study of the Graphic Novel
Rev. by Eric Buscemi

Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro’s Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human
Rev. by Christine Cornell

Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr.’s Back from the Dead: Remakes of the Romero Zombie Films as Markers of Their Times
Rev. by Emma Dyson

Bradford Lyau’s The Anticipation Novelists of 1950s French Science Fiction: Stepchildren of Voltaire
Rev. by Sarah G. Farrell

Tom Henthorne’s William Gibson: A Literary Companion
Rev. by Paweł Frelik

Matthew Wilhelm Kapell’s Star Trek as Myth: Essays on Symbol and Archetype at the Final Frontier
Rev. by Jen Gunnels

Rachel Haywood Ferreira’s The Emergence of Latin American Science Fiction
Rev. by Dale Knickerbocker

Janice M. Bogstad and Philip E. Kaveny’s Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy
Rev. by Carol A. Leibiger

Noël Montague-Étienne Rarignac’s The Theology of Dracula: Reading the Book of Stoker as Sacred Text
Rev. by Beth E. McDonald

Rocky Wood’s Stephen King: A Literary Companion
Rev. by Jennifer Miller

John Clute’s Pardon This Intrusion: Fantastika in the World Storm
Rev. by T. S. Miller

John Kenneth Muir’s Horror Films of the 1990s
Rev. by Rikk Mulligan

Diane Long Hoeveler’s Gothic Riffs: Secularizing the Uncanny in the European Imaginary, 1780–1820
Rev. by Amy J. Ransom

Andy Sawyer and Peter Wright’s Teaching Science Fiction
Rev. by Don Riggs

Anneleen Masschelein’s The Unconcept: The Freudian Uncanny in Late Twentieth Century Theory
Rev. by Matt Schumacher

William F. Touponce and Jonathan R. Eller’s The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury: A Critical Edition. Volume I: 1938–1943 and William F. Toupone’s The New Ray Bradbury Review
Rev. by Matt Yockey

Valentine A. Pakis’s Perspectives on the Old Saxon Heliand: Introductory and Critical Essays, with an Edition of the Leipzig Fragment
Rev. by Corey J. Zwikstra