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The rise of Nordic Gothic
Yvonne Leffler and Johan Höglund

This chapter provides a historical survey of the rise of the Gothic in Nordic literature, film, TV series and video games. Going back to the first generation of Gothic texts, the chapter notes that German, British and French novels around 1800 were quickly translated into the Scandinavian languages, and that they inspired Nordic writers – and, later, film directors – to emulate this tradition but also to adapt the genre to Nordic audiences. The chapter then discusses the evolution of Nordic Gothic during the nineteenth and twentieth century, noting the most important writers and their work. Finally, the chapter describes the emerging scholarship that shows how Nordic canonical authors and filmmakers have been influenced by the Gothic, and addresses what can be termed the Nordic Gothic boom that can be said to begin in 2004 with John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Låt den rätte komma in.

in Nordic Gothic
The various shapes of Marcus Coates
Sarah Wade

The contemporary artist Marcus Coates is well known for a series of performances in which he imitates non-human animals. The combination of humour and a makeshift aesthetic have become somewhat of a trademark in these so-called ‘becoming animal’ works, as well as in socially engaged performances where the artist uses these ‘becoming’ skills to assume the role of the shaman. Although the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari positioned imitation as an ineffective means of becoming-animal, as has already been well rehearsed, this strategy remains key to Coates’s attempts to understand the world from alternative perspectives – especially those of non-human animals. In stark visual contrast to this body of work, Coates’s monochrome sculptural installations Platonic Spirit: Running Grey Wolf (2012) and All the Grey Animals (2012) comprise formal arrangements of grey prisms in the gallery space. Reminiscent of early minimalist works, they initially appear to be a far cry from the artist’s performances. This chapter examines how human–animal relations are articulated through encounters with these installations, speculating on why the wolf was represented in a stand-alone sculpture and considering these works in the context of Coates’s interest in becoming-animal.

in In the company of wolves
Transformations and animal selves in contemporary women’s poetry
Polly Atkin

In her poem ‘What Comes After’, Lorna Crozier’s first-person speaker evades the titular question by transforming herself into her ‘own big dog’ – ‘a big sack of sleep / stinking of me.’ This short poem exemplifies a common trope in contemporary poetry: that of transformation from human to animal as evasion of the self-awareness of being human. This chapter focuses on the transformation poems of Liz Berry and Kim Moore – two younger British poets whose first collections have been recently published – whose poems offer a reading of transformation into the non-human as a release from human social expectations, especially around gendered behaviour and romantic relationships. I argue that Berry’s and Moore’s poems may be seen to operate within an ecofeminist discourse, bringing together the human (woman) and the animal, to trouble a sense of human bodies as autonomous, limited and more-than-animal. I show how these poems seek to break down or push through boundaries between species, and different kinds of communication, finding liberation in the rejection of binarism. Their relationship with the animal is complex and multi-faceted, however, as this chapter will demonstrate, and might raise more questions than they are able to answer.

in In the company of wolves
Sofia Wijkmark

This chapter examines how contemporary Swedish Gothic relates to the dismantling of the Swedish welfare system, and how the welfare state is described in terms of horror in Lindqvist’s novels Hanteringen av odöda (2005; Handling the Undead 2009) and Rörelsen. Den andra platsen (2015; The Movement. The Other Place), and Mats Strandberg’s novel Hemmet (2017; The Home). These novels explore the failures of the welfare state in different ways. Lindqvist refers to or quotes iconic leaders associated with the welfare state, and Rörelsen deals with the murder of Olof Palme in 1986, describing the political climate at the time of his death. The zombie story Hanteringen av odöda addresses the incapacity of the state to take care of the undead, and the story indicates a connection between the awakening of the dead and climate change, reflecting the ecological anxiety of contemporary society. Strandberg’s Hemmet depicts the consequences of welfare profiteering and is defined as geriatric Gothic. The setting is a haunted nursing home and the story combines supernatural horror and social critique with the fear of old age, but also with the fear of having to put a family member in an institution run by a profit-based company.

in Nordic Gothic
Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg’s teenage witch trilogy
Maria Holmgren Troy

This chapter examines Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg’s Engelsfors trilogy, including the novels Cirkeln (2011; The Circle 2012), Eld (2012; Fire 2013) and Nyckeln (2013; The Key 2015). This trilogy, focusing on Swedish teenage witches, combines supernatural Gothic with critical social realism, and highlights the flaws and failures of the welfare state from a number of teenagers’ points of view. It places the story in a particular Swedish geographical and historical setting, while at the same time employing Gothic themes and motifs that have earlier been used in 1990s’ American films and TV series. The chapter explores the use of multiple focalisation, Gothic plot elements, the place of witchcraft, the school as a Gothic location, doppelgängers and divided selves and the attraction and dangers of the witches’ powers. Despite the elements that it shares with certain American Gothic productions, the trilogy is a distinctly Nordic Gothic production in that it manages to create a plural protagonist and in the ways in which the geographical and gloomy social setting are used to tie the Gothic elements to particular historical contexts.

in Nordic Gothic
Commodification, corporeality and paranormal romance in Angela Carter’s beast tales
Bill Hughes

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is full of metamorphoses, between animal and human, but also of texts. Variants on the same tales and themes allow her to examine the same problems in various ways from different angles. ‘Red Riding Hood’, the wolf and the werewolf are central motifs. This chapter analyses how Carter’s tales depict flesh (usually female) as in the marketplace. Flesh is commodified, but exchange value becomes transformed into use value (that is, following Marx, its sensuous particularity is restored) through her miraculous metamorphoses. There is a vision of utopian mutuality in desire, emancipated and enhanced by immersion into the non-human – a liberation not only from patriarchy but also from the capitalist commodification of those bodies. She initiates the generic hybridity of present-day paranormal romance, where the monster of traditional Gothic becomes a sympathetic lover, forming an architext for the new genre of paranormal romance. The transformations of fairy tale that Carter pioneered work on prior ‘horizons of expectation’ and form one of the devices of that genre. Carter intermodulates genres to create a form that looks back to questions first raised in the Enlightenment about what humanity is and our relation to nature and animality, and bequeathing her explorations to her successors.

in In the company of wolves
Hans Christian Andersen and Selma Lagerlöf
Maria Holmgren Troy and Sofia Wijkmark

This chapter presents two important forerunners to contemporary Nordic Gothic, Danish Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875) and Swedish Selma Lagerlöf (1858–1940). The chapter sketches their different literary and historical contexts and touches on translations and adaptions of, or contemporary references to, their Gothic stories and novels. The first part of the chapter then focuses on Gothic elements in Andersen’s fairy tales ‘Den lille Havfrue’ (1837; ‘The Little Mermaid’), ‘Snedronningen’ (1844; ‘The Snow Queen’) and ‘De vilde Svaner’ (1838; ‘The Wild Swans’), and briefly relates the first two to the Disney adaptations of those two tales. The second part of the chapter examines folklore, fin-de-siècle and provinciality in the novel Gösta Berlings saga (1891; The Saga of Gösta Berling). The short stories ‘De fågelfrie’ (1892, ‘The Outlaws’) and ‘Stenkumlet’ (1892, ‘The King’s Grave’) are also briefly discussed as examples of Lagerlöf’s use of the forest as Gothic setting.

in Nordic Gothic
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Fur, fashion and species transvestism
Catherine Spooner

Werewolf mythology is intrinsically bound up with Western culture’s relationship with clothes, and specifically with the substitution of one kind of skin for another. This chapter explores the relationship between fur and the body in werewolf narratives and the way that these inflect the presentation of fashionable femininity. It focuses on the Ralph Lauren Autumn/Winter 2015 advertising campaign, tracing its heritage through nineteenth-century werewolf fiction, visual culture (from nineteenth-century painting to contemporary photography) and contemporary film. Drawing on Marjorie Garber’s construction of the transvestite as ‘third term’ that disrupts a binary gender system, it proposes the werewolf as ‘species transvestite’. By ‘wearing the wolf’ – or, indeed, ‘wearing the woman’ – the female werewolf refuses a clear distinction between fur and skin and becomes a ‘third term’ disrupting the binary division between human and animal. This liminal status is based in problematic cultural assumptions about the nature of femininity, indigenous peoples and indeed animals, but it also promises a fierce glamour, bodily freedom and intimacy with wilderness that remains seductive. The chapter concludes that the promise of transformation in these texts is the promise of fashion itself.

in In the company of wolves
Brutishness, discrimination and the lower-class wolf-man from The Wolf Man to True Blood
Victoria Amador

Whilst the vampire has experienced an enormous resurgence in film, television and fiction in recent years, the werewolf is represented rather like a familiar or loyal canine accompanying a more powerful master. Not only does this monster carry second billing, an interesting permutation is the community status of the monster, frequently placed in a subordinate social class, relegated to the equivalent of a kennel rather than a castle. This chapter explores this lesser position of the werewolf in three particular works. First, in 1941’s The Wolf Man, despite his role as a man who ‘is pure at heart and says his prayers at night’, Lon Chaney Jr’s portrayal of Larry Talbot as a lumbering, expatriated-to-America prodigal son of a Welsh grandee posits him as a poor relation clearly out of his depth. In the Twilight series, the Native American shapeshifter, Jacob Black, lives on the reservation and cannot compete with the effete Cullen family. Finally, the notion of American Southern white/trailer trash permeates Charlaine Harris’s novels, and True Blood portrays the wolf packs as crude boondocks residents. Rather like the misrepresented wolves currently being reintroduced in various wilderness locations, these filmic werewolves are equally unwanted and undermined.

in In the company of wolves
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Wolf-children, storytelling and the state of nature
Garry Marvin

This chapter looks at culture itself and how its foundations in and departure from wolfish nature are problematised by the wild children so frequently associated with wolves. The sound of wolves is commonly associated with unsettling, uncanny or sublime moments in literature and film but we can see a contrary depiction in Ted Hughes’s poem ‘Life after Death’. Here, the empathic and consoling nature of the wolves’ cry is emphasised in a moment of absolute grief. Hughes is seeking solace in the notion that wolves and other animals can become surrogate parents to orphaned human children. Wolf-children in Romantic-period poetry, where notions of native innocence prevail, are examined, drawing on poems by Wordsworth and Mary Robinson. The representation of such children is examined in relation to Locke’s tabula rasa theory and Rousseau’s lost ‘state of nature’. Whilst the eighteenth-century wild children Victor of Aveyron and Peter the Wild Boy remain largely mute, literature constructs a history for these children through repeated storytelling. The Rousseauvian ideal of the child of nature is often undermined in such accounts but there is ambiguity too. Abandonment can be seen as a blessing: the child inhabits an animal world, a gap is bridged and something once lost is rediscovered through narrative.

in In the company of wolves