The concept of a “monster” can look a little different in everyone’s minds. However, there have been some iconic monsters that have made a name for themselves throughout the history of literature.
To help students fully understand monsters, Saint Leo University is proud to offer an undergraduate course titled Monsters in Literature within the Department of Language Studies and the Arts at University Campus. This semester, Dr. Kathryn Duncan and Agnieszka Leesch are each teaching a section of the course, which was first offered in 2013.
“I've taught it almost every semester since, and it's one of my favorites,” Duncan says. “We have a lot of fun. In my sections of the course, students split up into monster groups, which were originally inspired by Hogwarts, and compete for monster points through a variety of activities.”
She believes that there are many reasons why monsters in various works of literature have had such an impact on readers.
“Horror is about fear of death and loss of control. Those fears are universal. Monster stories allow us to explore those fears in a safe space. Studying monsters allows us to understand what it means to be human.”
According to Duncan, among the top authors in the monster genre are Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Robert Louis Stevenson. Contemporary authors include Neil Gaiman, John Ajvide Lindqvist and Stephen King. She points to characters like vampires and zombies as some of the most popular monsters in literature.
Celebrating Two Centuries of Frankenstein
Originally authored by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein was first released in 1818. The iconic work of fiction has been celebrated worldwide this year to mark 200 years since its publication.
The students in both Monsters in Literature classes recently had to complete a “scavenger hunt” in the library on campus based on questions compiled by Carol Ann Moon, a reference and instructional outreach librarian. The project was entirely based on Frankenstein and its author.
“Each group had to find both print and online sources like books, articles and e-books that deal with literary criticism of Frankenstein,” Moon says.
The library lobby has a “happy birthday to Frankenstein” display in honor of the 200th birthday of the character. It shows several copies of the novel open to certain pages, along with a variety of visual sketches.
“We tried to showcase different people’s imaginations over two centuries,” she explains. “We really made an effort to capture the appreciation for this historic piece of literature.”
From the Professors’ Desk
According to Leesch, Frankenstein has had such widespread appeal because of the parallels readers can draw to it.
“Seeing ourselves in the characters we encounter appeals to those of us who read to be comforted in the fact that we can recognize particular events, people and settings,” she says. “In that regard, Frankenstein is almost too frighteningly familiar.”
Duncan concurs and believes that issues dealt with in the book are still extremely relevant.
“All of the issues of ethics, community and science that Shelley grapples with are still true for us.”