ENG198H1S - L0101

First Year Seminar: Monster Encounters - Monsters and the Monstrous in Literature


Thursday, 2 pm - 4 pm

Instructor Information

A. Walton

Course Description

Monsters and the monstrous have been among the most compelling and frequently recurring elements in literature, from ancient times to the present day. From Homer's Cyclops to Ridley Scott's Alien, monstrous figures have terrified and transfixed all those who come upon them. In this course, we will examine the figure of the monster to see what we might gain from our own encounter with the monstrous. To stage this encounter, we will read a number of literary masterworks from both ancient and contemporary contexts; lectures will also cover selections and themes from the burgeoning field of inquiry known as “monster studies.”

As every horror franchise can tell us, the most compelling monsters have a way of returning: across human lives, across generations, even across millenia. In our class, we will encounter a number of just such endless adaptable, endlessly fascinating creatures, and explore the ways that they have revisited literature across time. We will begin with an exploration of The Odyssey, one of the most ancient texts in the canon of widely read literature today (650-800 BCE), asking how the monsters in The Odyssey help us to understand some of the most important functions of monsters in narrative. As a class, through both lecture and discussion, we will develop a set of key words and key themes that will help us to construct our own collaborative theory of the monstrous. From this beginning point, we will turn to a number of fascinating adapations of Homeric monsters: we will consider Ovid’s repurposing of the Cyclops narrative, as well Madeleine Miller’s very recent—and widely praised—novel about the life of Circe. A second major cluster of texts will examine the reception of the story of Beowulf and Grendel across time, from the poem Beowulf in the original language, to its adapation and recirculation in both Gardner’s Grendel and Headley’s The Mere Wife. Our class will conclude by examining figures of the monstrous in twentieth-century film to help us examine the resurgence of the monstrous in our own contemporary discourse.

Required Readings

  • The Odyssey; Ovid, The Metamorphoses; Miller, Circe; Beowulf; Gardner, Grendel; Headley, The Mere Wife; Pan’s Labyrinth; Alien

First Three Authors/Texts

  • The Odyssey; Ovid, The Metamorphoses; Miller, Circe;   

Methods of Evaluation

  • Short essay (3-4 pp.): 25%
  • Final essay (4-6 pp): 45%
  • Discussion board posts: 10%
  • Participation: 20%