Panel 6.2 Monsters in Transition


Jen Aggleton, UK, “Is this the Real Life, or is this just Fantasy? Constructing Fantastic Locations in A Monster Calls

In 2011, Walker Books published A Monster Calls, a young adult novel written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay.  The book follows Conor, a 13 year old boy whose mother is dying of cancer.  As he tries to cope with her imminent death, he is visited by a monster, a giant yew tree who tells him stories and demands the truth in return.

                Throughout the book Ness weaves fantasy together with a realistic fictional story creating multiple layers of fiction within the text. The first layer is that of Conor's everyday life: school, home, family.  This creates the 'reality' of the fictional world.  With the introduction of the fantasy creature of the monster, another layer of fiction is created.  Ness never makes explicit whether the monster is an actual physical presence or a part of Conor's subconscious.  A third layer of fiction is then introduced by the stories the monster tells Conor: a set of fictions within a fictional layer of a realistic fictional text.  These layers of fantasy and reality frequently blend into one another and the ‘true’ situation is never made explicit.  The effect of this is that the reader must constantly work to construct their own interpretation of the reality of the book, and decide what is 'true' and what is not.

                Drawing on reader-response theory and my own research into the impact of illustrations on children’s reading experience, I examine the way that text and illustrations interact with the reader’s own perspective to create fantastical locations in A Monster Calls.  My paper explores the key moments in the book where Conor moves between ‘real’ and ‘fantasy’ locations, looking at the variety of ‘clues’ provided by the text and illustrations, and how the reader must actively decode these clues and decide whether Conor is in an actual fantasy location, or if the events are happening within his mind.


Bionote: Jen Aggleton is a practicing primary school teacher and researcher into the role of illustrations in children’s novels.  In 2014 she completed an MEd at the University of Cambridge, for which she achieved a distinction. In October 2015 she will begin a PhD, for which she has been awarded an ESRC studentship.


Alan Gregory, Lancaster University, UK, “Nightmares and Inscapes: Pathways to Thoughtworlds of the Imagination in Joe Hill’s NOS4R2

The inscape is the core of the poetics of Gerard Manley Hopkins. In his essay on Hopkins’s ‘split world’, Dennis Sobolev (2011) acknowledges the enigmatic nature of the inscape by demonstrating the range of meanings attributed to Hopkins’s poetic concept, including; ‘the intrinsic form of a thing, a form perceived in nature ... an expression of the inner core of individuality [or] ... an essence or identity embodied in the thing’ (27). Sobolev’s various models of the inscape also encompass its definition as an interior landscape, or thoughtworld; the product of a cerebral variant of world building. Joe Hill’s NOS4R2 (2013) is a literary exemplar of the inscape’s construction as an interior landscape; particularly through its representation of the topography of Charlie Manx’s macabre thoughtworld, Christmasland.

Hill endorses Sobolev’s presentation of Hopkins’s split world by suggesting that ‘everyone lives in two worlds – the real world and the imaginary world of thought’ (100). NOS4R2 features several, ‘special creatives’ whose travel between the two worlds is facilitated by a vehicular totem, such as Vic McQueen’s Triumph motorcycle, or Manx’s Rolls Royce Wraith. Journeys to the various inscapes in Hill’s text drain energy from specific sites, and cause a variety of physical effects which manifest on the creative’s body, with Vic McQueen’s mobility along the Shortaway Bridge draining her of the creative energy accumulated in the right hemisphere of her brain. By journeying to Christmasland in the Wraith accompanied by a child, Manx is able to deflect the vampiric effects of the transition between reality and his nightmarish inscape onto the body of his passenger, and fuel his travels with their unhappiness. This process creates monstrous visions of pure childhood innocence, transmogrified to populate an elaborate piece of cerebral architecture which represents a twisted spatial conceptualisation of fun conjured in Manx’s imagination.


Bionote: Alan Gregory completed his doctoral thesis at Lancaster University in 2013. His publications include ‘Fabricating Narrative Prosthesis: Fashioning (Disabled) Gothic Bodies in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns’ in Aeternum: The Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies (2014), and ‘Staging the Extraordinary Body: Masquerading Disability in Patrick McGrath’s Martha Peake’ in Technologies of the Gothic in Literature and Culture: Technogothics (Routledge, 2015). He is currently writing a monograph entitled Disabled Male Bodies in Contemporary Gothic Fiction for Palgrave Macmillan’s Literary Disability Studies series.


Keith Scott, De Montfort University, UK, “From R’lyeh to Whitehall: Charles Stross and the Bureaucratic Fantastic”

For maximum effect, the literary fantastic should always be placed in juxtaposition with the everyday, as the reader is transported from "normality" to a world which is inherently Other; the work of H.P. Lovecraft offers ample proof of the effects that can be produced in a narrative shift from the mundane to the miraculous, from domesticity to dread. The universe (or rather multiverse) of the Cthulhu Mythos is replete with zones of transition, where the characters move from the certainties of a world they understood to an infinitely richer, more horrifying realm. This paper will examine the work of Charles Stross, whose work builds on Lovecraft's to create a fantastic that is paranormal, psychological, and political.

Stross' "Laundry Series" takes the essential elements of the Cthulhu Mythos and relocates them to the world of spy fiction. These texts play with the tropes of horror and espionage, but their true location is information space; higher mathematics and cyberspace offer the portals through which the monsters enter our world. They pastiche the conventions of pre-existing genres, but they carve out a new fictional space, entirely fitting for the era of Virilio's "death of geography". Spy stories and tales of terror, they are perfect responses to the panopticon world of the post-Snowden surveillance state. They are stories of secret, and of occult knowledge, set in a world which straddles ours, Lovecraft's and Le Carré's; repurposing familiar fictional tropes and locales, they create a blended genre which is perfectly attuned to our contemporary anxieties.


Bionote: Dr Keith Scott is the Programme Leader for English Language at De Montfort University. His research lies in the zone between communication and culture, with a particular interest in the sociocultural "meanings" of popular culture, and the ideological content of genre fiction and comics.