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Kristin Dearborn Digs The Thing

It’s July and with that comes blistering, oppressive heat. Could there be a better time to talk with author Kristin Dearborn about her favorite movie/monster—the Thing. 

Set on the barren, bitterly cold continent of Antarctica, John Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing gives the horror lover a different kind of monster to fear. Dearborn says that she considers this version of the movie and monster her own because she and the movie came about in the same year. She also loves it because of the isolation and claustrophobia of the setting. To her the monster is the perfect killer with the ability to attack anyone and bring about severe paranoia. 

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Talking Horror with Wytovich: Part II

Last week, my blog post was an interview with Stephanie Wytovich about her use of horror in the classroom. During the course of that interview, we discussed the importance of diverse voices in the horror genre. Today’s post is going to involve that discussion. 

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Horror Canon

This is a blog post on a publisher’s website, so what I’m about to say may or may not seem that shocking. The majority of kids today profess a dislike of reading. I’m an English teacher. I hear this all the time. Of course part of my job is to make students read. 

There is a set course of study that every state has put in place. In English, this includes works that need to be read. Teachers have some leeway with what they pick, but boundaries still exist. Early American literature has to be covered. World literature is on the curriculum in certain grades. British literature is usually reserved for seniors. Within those boundaries, schools oftentimes have already chosen what is to be read. This selection is usually what is in the textbook. Sometimes English departments get together and decide novels or plays to be read by certain grade levels. 

What is lacking from most of those lists? Horror. It’s because of a variety of reasons. Horror literature in education has a stench about it. The odor of festering corpses permeates any room in which the idea of using horror to bring in reluctant readers is mentioned. 

In a rather old article, but education hangs out in the world of old research, Randi Dickson, who at the time was a doctoral student in education, wrote about how kids loved reading horror fiction, but that it provided nothing to edify them (Dickson, 1998). 

The ironic thing about this article is how often Dickson discusses children’s love of the Goosebumps series. Again, this is a 20-year-old article, but there is a fundamental issue overlooked then as it is now. If you want kids/students to read, they have to like to read. 

Forcing students to read stories they find boring can damage their relationship with reading for the rest of their lives. Once we lose them; we probably aren’t getting them back. This is where horror comes into play. Kids like a good safe scare like Goosebumps or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Here in Alabama, kids devour “true” ghost stories recorded by the late Kathryn Tucker Windham. None of her books are under 30-years-old, but kids still love them because they have a spine tingling aspect to them. Adolescents love scary stuff too. There is a reason why slasher movies exist. It’s not because 40-somethings like me watch them. Teens like them. They buy the movie tickets. That’s why so many characters in those movies are teens, and why so many are no rated PG-13. Guess what, teens will like horror novels too.

Later in her article, Dickson mentions that reader choice, even if it’s horror, might be a way to lure kids into a love of reading that will translate into reading books that she says are edifying (1998). 

There it is. As an English teacher, I believe in letting students have some liberty in choosing what they wish to read. I still run into the kids who have no desire to read. This is when I mention graphic novels. (A blog for another day perhaps). When students have difficulty deciding what they might like to read, I suggest horror titles. 

A quick story. I had a student who was a notorious troublemaker. He was smart. He read well, but he was caught up in the whole I need to be bad to be cool mindset. It came time to select a book to read. He couldn’t come up with anything. I escorted him to the school’s library, and together, we looked through the shelves. I was not his main English teacher. I had him in a remedial course, which he didn’t need to be in. He was a fluent and thoughtful reader. His problem was motivation. I knew he didn’t like his actual English teacher very well.

On the bottom shelf in the part of the library where the horror, fantasy, and sci-fi novels were kept. I saw the perfect book for him: Lois Duncan’s Killing Mr. Griffin. I grabbed it and told him to check it out. 

“What’s it about?” he asked.

“A group of kids kidnapping their English teacher,” I replied.

“All right.”

He read the book and loved. (No English teachers were harmed in the reading of that book.)

A student engaged by using horror novels. Did this kid go on to become the model student? Of course not, this isn’t fiction, but he may very well have learned to love books. So teachers, parents, etc. should encourage students to pick books they want to read. If it’s horror, good. They will get something out of it; even if, it’s just learning they like books. 

Now some technical stuff:

Work CitedDickson, R. (1998). Horror: to gratify not edify. Language Arts, 76, (2), 115-122.

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We Talk to Jonathon Mayhall about Frankenstein’s Monster

They call him Frankenstein, but that’s not his name. He is the creature or Frankenstein’s monster. He is what happens when a creation turns on its creator. Karloff made him iconic. So much so, that image has entered our collective unconscious as the representation of the character. 

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Cthulhu Calling

In the movie What About Bob?, Bill Murray’s character says there are two kinds of people in the world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t. I believe there are two kinds of people in the world. Those are the ones who know who Cthulhu is and those who don’t. 

Last Thursday was the last day of school where I’d  been teaching 8th grade science. I wore a t-shirt made to look an incoming cell phone call from none other than Cthulhu. I knew that some of my students would dig it. Others would have no idea what it was. The first person to comment on it was another teacher. She is probably in her mid-fifties. When we ran into each other in the mail room she said, “I like that shirt.”

After that I asked her if she knew who Cthulhu was. She did not. I gave her the quick and dirty introduction to the character. She gave me the all too familiar that’s nice smile and head nod that I get from lots of people who just don’t get horror at all. The kids, however, loved it. Cthulhu is in revival in the junior high school set. 

Cthulhu is one of my favorite monsters. I don’t have much in my collection related to him, however. I own a Funko pop mini of the great old one, the previously mentioned t-shirt, and a custom embroidered shirt that I wear to book signings and conventions. That’s it. I, however, talk about him a lot. 

At my former job, I often referred to my boss as Lord Cthulhu. Much like the elder god, the sheer sight of that boss would drive you insane. He shows up in random comments I make on a daily basis. I’m being literal about that. I mention Cthulhu every single day in some capacity. 

I think that he is a neat character who needs to be mentioned with the likes of classics like Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and the werewolf. However, I am cautious about telling people to read “The Call of Cthulhu.” One reason is that Lovecraft is, in my opinion, an acquired taste. The second reason is Lovecraft himself. The author is currently a sticky topic. His ideas about humanity and which type of peoples are good is evident in his writing. Lovecraft shares a lot of racist, sexist, and classist ideas in his works. This causes a strong sense of cognitive dissonance within me. One the one hand, I really like some of the monsters that Lovecraft created. The other hand holds that he expressed his narrow minded and ignorant opinions in those works. It’s a tough balancing act, but I’m a liberal Southern so I’ve had to do this most of my life. 

Then there is Cthulhu. He doesn’t care. He hates everyone equally and wants everyone to die just the same. 

Cthulhu has also transcended his creator. I mentioned at the beginning there are two kinds of people, those who know him and those who don’t. Amongst those two kinds of people that I’ve met, only a few know who created Cthulhu. Most of the junior high kids know the character from internet memes, video games, board games, or that episode of South Park. I’ve not met a single kid who knew Cthulhu that had read Lovecraft. The transcendence that Cthulhu has made over his originator, makes it easier to like him as a monster. 

Although he is incredibly evil, Cthulhu is cool. He’s everywhere. You can get bumper stickers advising people to vote for him in 2020. (Anything is better that what we’ve got.) There are parodies making him a cutesy cartoon character: Hello Cthulhu. This often brings down the appeal of monster to me. Cthulhu is still badass. He’s not like anything else. If anything like him comes around, it just a knock-off Cthulhu, an elder god at discount prices, a generic great old one you might pick up at Aldi’s. 

So here’s to Cthulhu in all his look-upon-him-and-go-insane glory. Vote for him in 2020: why choose the lesser of the two evils. Get a cuddly stuffed animal. Buy your cat a costume and make her Cathulhu. Get yourself one of those knit hats that covers your face with yarn tentacles to keep the cold away this winter. Cthulhu’s cool. He’s hip, and it’s just not the 8th graders thinking so.   

Editor Note: Cthulhu and Lovecraftian Horror as a whole is hardly ever done correctly. The mind bending terror of a thing whose very attention can drive you mad is terrifying, especially when done right. That said, Cthulhu and the look associated with it, is undeniably cool. I also heartily recommend both Call of Cthulhu games that are out, they are both fantastic.

John Baltisberger
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The Girl Next Door

You and an older fellow sit in small room with a big box with lots of switches on it. You both draw a slip of paper from a hat. You get to ask the questions. The older guy gets to answer them. The scientist walks you both into the adjacent room. The older guy is sat in a chair and strapped to a bunch of electrodes. The idea is that you are going to ask him paired words from the room with the big box. He answers them. When he answers correctly, nothing happens. When he answers wrong, you punch one of the switches and give him a shock. Those shocks increase in voltage until he yells out that he has a heart condition and wishes to stop the study. The scientist tells you it’s okay to keep going because the shocks hurt but don’t cause any damage. You keep doing the study until he reach the last switch which you believe delivered enough electricity to kill the man in the other room. 

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The Horror… The Horror: A Rant

“I don’t read that stuff.”

“Why do you write things like that?”

Those are common comments I get when people discover that I write horror fiction. People also give me a lot strange looks when I set up at local street festivals or wear a t-shirt with a picture of the Bride of Frankenstein on it. Everyone thinks that I’m going to say some kind of incantation in an arcane language and bring about the devil, himself, to tempt them to the dark delights of scary fiction, which of course will lead to the end of the world in a fiery Biblical-style apocalypse. Maybe this is just a reaction that I get. I do live in in the middle of the buckle of the Bible belt.
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Quasimodo: A Reflection on the Hunchback.

The day Notre Dame burned a meme began to circulate. It had a picture of Quasimodo and said something like: investigators don’t know how the fire started, but I have my ideas. Besides being a joke that was too soon, the meme was grossly inaccurate. It implied that the titular hunchback from Victor Hugo’s classic Gothic novel would want the cathedral to burn. This is far from the reality of the character. Quasimodo would’ve been horrified by the fire. The cathedral was his home. He fought off a mob to protect it. The meme also showed how Quasimodo is viewed by the general public, as a monster.

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