Monstrosities: The Meaning of Monsters in the Modern World

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 19, 2021 - August 18, 20217/19 - 8/184 WeeksOnlineOpenOnlineDorin Smith

Course Description

What makes a monster? Is it their strange-looking body or is it the unfamiliar world they represent? In this course, we make sense of the monstrous in literature, film, and graphic novels by seeing how “the monster” reflects society’s anxieties about the unknown, the threatening, and the unimaginable. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,” says horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, and monsters often confirm our worst fears. They conjure up terror, horror, and dread. But rarely do we examine these fears and ask what our anxiety about monsters tells us about our society and ourselves. In this course we will track the many faces of the monstrous, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to The Walking Dead. The course begins with the Gothic genre in the early-19th century and progresses to our present moment, potentially addressing: creaturely cryptids, man-made monsters, Classic Hollywood horror, the freak show and the body as spectacle, criminality and the grotesque, the psychological monster, and, finally, the otherworldly monsters of science fiction. Exploring these topics a central question will emerge: What does the monstrous reveal about our changing modern world? We will engage a variety of media and genres including short stories, novels and novellas, comics, podcasts, television, and film. Authors and works include (but are not limited to): Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, The Twilight Zone, and The Haunting of Hill House. If possible, there will also be a schedule virtual visit to the renowned H. P. Lovecraft Special Collection at Brown’s John Hay Library. Throughout this course, students will learn to analyze texts, to think critically about the themes, and to craft compelling arguments. Central to this process are response papers and an argumentative essay task that will develop the skill-set necessary to college-level writing. Students will gain a working knowledge of the history and formal characteristics of the science fiction genre. They will be able to articulate and critically reflect on the ways in which the scientific imagination positions an individual— directly and indirectly—in relation to his or her society. Moreover, students will then be able to produce rigorous response papers to university-level readings, and will be able to produce a thesis-driven analytical essay using prevision and revision skills across multiple drafts.

Prerequisites: Students should feel confident at (or motivated by the idea of) analyzing literature in a college-level setting.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEEL0925

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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