Wagner the Wehr-wolf, Sweeney Todd and the limits of human responsibility
This chapter explores the relationship between early nineteenth-century werewolf fiction and the changing legal codes that governed the circumstances under which a criminal might be found ‘not guilty by virtue of insanity’. Before the institution of the McNaghten rules, criminal responsibility could be evaded only if the criminal ‘doth not know what he is doing, no more than an infant, than a brute or a wild beast’. This chapter argues that the werewolves that appear in the fiction of the period, who are often outlaws or madmen or both, function as symbolic representations of the pre-McNaghten criminal lunatic whose threatening otherness is manifested in their bestial nature, and whose proper home is in the forested wilderness. The serial killers of the early penny bloods, conversely, speak to the new anxieties created by the post-McNaghten popularisation of notions of ‘moral insanity’, according to which the criminal lunatic may look and behave exactly like everyone else, enabling them to prey with impunity upon the inhabitants of the new cities of the 1830s and 1840s.
Nordic Gothic traces Gothic fiction in the Nordic region from its beginnings in the nineteenth century with a main focus on the development of Gothic from the 1990s onwards in literature, film, TV series and new media. The volume gives an overview of Nordic Gothic fiction in relation to transnational developments and provides a number of case studies and in-depth analyses of individual narratives. The book creates an understanding of a ubiquitous but hitherto under-researched cultural phenomenon by showing how the Gothic narratives make visible cultural anxieties haunting the Nordic countries and their welfare systems, and how central these anxieties are for the understanding of identities and ideologies in the Nordic region. It examines how figures from Nordic folklore and mythology function as metaphorical expressions of Gothic themes, and also how universal Gothic figures such as vampires and witches are used in the Nordic context. The Nordic settings, and especially the Nordic wilderness, are explored from perspectives such as ecocriticism and postcolonialism and subcategories such as Gothic crime, Gothic humour, troll Gothic and geriatric Gothic are defined and discussed. Furthermore, the phenomenon of transcultural adaptation is investigated, using the cases of Lars von Trier’s Riget and John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Låt den rätte komma in, two seminal works of contemporary Nordic Gothic.
Places and spaces in Johan Theorin’s Öland quartet series
This chapter explores the internationally successful Swedish novelist Johan Theorin’s Öland quartet series, including the novels Skumtimmen (2007; Echoes of the Dead, 2008), Nattfåk (2008; The Darkest Room, 2009), Blodläge (2010; The Quarry, 2011) and Rörgast (2013; The Voices Beyond, 2015). The novels are examined as Gothic crime, that is, a Gothic subgenre of Nordic Noir, where the modern crime investigation is obstructed by seemingly supernatural happenings linked to the Nordic location and its history. The chapter demonstrates in what way Theorin writes within an old and established Nordic tradition of crime fiction dating back to the early nineteenth century, at the same time as he expands the importance of setting and Nordic mythology to address different aspects of modernity and the disadvantages of modern lifestyle. Yi-Fu Tuan’s distinction of place and space is therefore used as a point of departure in the investigation of the return of a fear-provoking past linked to unfamiliar spaces beyond modern society and the tourist attraction on the idyll of Öland, a Swedish summer resort in the Baltic sea.
This chapter maps and analyses new Gothic media and video games developed in the Nordic region. The chapter first considers what the concepts Gothic and Nordic actually entail when the focus is new media rather than literature or cinema. This is followed by analyses of four of the more important and widely disseminated games and considers the interactive stories that they tell in relation to the Nordic geographical, ideological and cultural landscape. The first two, Finnish Alan Wake (2010) and Swedish Little Nightmares (2017), are well funded and internationally distributed games made for an international audience. The other two, Swedish Year Walk (2013) and Norwegian Through the Woods (2016) are independent games that may look for wide dissemination, but that keep much closer to Nordic themes and settings.
This chapter examines the phenomenon of Nordic troll Gothic. It demonstrates how late twentieth and twenty-first century troll fiction can be understood in relation to the concepts of ecogothic and dark ecology, and how the ambiguous character of the troll is used to explore limits and question categories. Nature, especially the forest, is depicted as dark and uncanny and it is sometimes also described as having agency, dissolving the limits between animate and inanimate. The chapter analyses troll stories by Swedish authors Selma Lagerlöf, Kerstin Ekman and Stefan Spjut, and Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo, showing how they make use of both the folklore tradition and the Gothic. The chapter demonstrates, among other things, that the plot is rarely narrated from the point of view of the troll, and that trolls often are depicted as a dying species but also as dark avengers, striking back at humankind.
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.
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.
Transformations and animal selves in contemporary women’s poetry
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.
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.
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.