Mysterious Fears and Ghastly Longings

Winter 2008

The Gothic or horror novel remains one of the most popular forms of fiction and film today, for we seem to delight in what deliberately tries to induce in us pleasurable shivers of fear through magic potions, mechanical monsters, vampires, and heroes disguised as villains. Indeed, these characteristics also populate folk and fairy tales passed down for generations through oral storytelling. The classic Gothic novel began as part of the movement away from the classical order and rationality of the 18th century Enlightenment and toward the cultivation of feeling and imagination which we classify as the Romantic movement. These novels of course foreshadow Freud’s theory that we are not totally conscious rational beings; that horror deals with forbidden or painful material just on the edge of repression, but not entirely repressed. In this series we will read the three great Gothic novels—”Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”—as well as contemporary popular works. Each of the four evening sessions will pair a classic horror or romance novel with a contemporary example that deals with similar themes. Stephen King fans, for example, be aware! If you want to take advantage of this opportunity, please join us for this “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” reading and discussion series. Will we only be reading works from a literary genre, or will we also encounter books that reflect our anxiety about events of our contemporary social and cultural history? Join us to explore and discover!

Oklahoma City University invites participants to make these books come alive in the readings of this five-part series. At each session, a Humanities scholar will make a 30-40 minute presentation on the two books in the context of the theme. Small group discussion will follow with experienced discussion leaders. At the end, everyone will come together for a brief wrap-up. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to preregister and borrow the reading selections and theme brochure by calling Harbour Winn at 208-5472, emailing him at or dropping by OCU’s Walker Center 171 (southwest corner of the building just south of NW 26th and Florida). Since we have a finite number of book sets, please check them out only if you plan to attend the series. Information can also be found on the web site of the Center for Interpersonal Studies through Film & Literature:

The series will be held in Walker Center, Room 151, on the Oklahoma City University campus from 7:00 to 9:00 PM on Tuesdays, beginning September January 8 and continuing on alternate Tuesdays through February 19. Books, theme materials, and services for this series are provided by “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma,” a cooperative project of the Oklahoma Library Association and the Oklahoma Humanities Council. “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” is funded by grants from the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the Inasmuch Foundation and by individual donations. Funding for this series is provided by a grant to The Center for Interpersonal Studies through Film & Literature, in the Petree College of Arts & Sciences, at OCU from the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


1/8/2008 Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Stephen King’s The Dark Half

These two novels will launch our series of pairing classic and contemporary horror and romance novels. Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” changed forever our concept of the self. We are divided beings often driven by dark, unconscious forces. Stevenson and King both explore the capacity for evil lurking below the surface of our ordinary workaday selves, but in what ways does King render the “Hydes” prowling about our urban shadows?

1/22/2008 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robin Cook’s Mutation

How far can modern science take us? “Frankenstein” and “Mutation” both dramatize our “mysterious fears” of scientific achievement while also revealing our “ghastly longing” for the knowledge which is power. Doesn’t the western world associate the longing for knowledge with the original sin of humans narrated in Genesis? Both books also give us pause to reflect on how we come to believe something is monstrous. Is the latter a projection of what we most fear in ourselves?

2/5/2008 Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot

Stoker’s “Dracula” has never been out of print since its publication in 1897. Why are vampires so repellant yet seductive? The “Dracula” lore is most clearly associated with forbidden sexuality. The personal encounters in Dracula are abandoned by King, however, and operate impersonally.

2/19/2008 Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Victoria Holt’s The Mistress of Mellyn

Austen’s and Holt’s novels contain elements of both the Gothic and the romance forms. Holt’s 1960 novel reflects the Gothic heritage and spurns a blue print for many contemporary Gothic romances. Austen, always a unique pleasure, has great fun satirizing the novels in the series.