Panel 7 – Different Landscapes

- Alan Gregory and Dawn Stobart, Lancaster University (UK), “The Survival of a President: Rewritten American Histories and the Failed Assassination of John F. Kennedy in Stephen King’s 11/22/63”

- Laura Ettenfield, Leeds Beckett University (UK), “‘The sea is everything… the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence… it is the Living Infinite’: the alternate reality of subaquatic space in Nineteenth-century literature”

The Survival of a President: Rewritten American Histories and the Failed Assassination of John F. Kennedy in Stephen King’s 11/22/63

The assassination of John F. Kennedy is a cornerstone of twentieth-century American history that has been frequently reconfigured in literary culture, including in Don DeLillo’s Libra (1988) and James Ellroy’s American Tabloid (1995). Other texts, including Stephen Baxter’s Voyage (1996) present an alternate history in which Kennedy survives the assassination attempt by Lee Harvey Oswald. Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (2012) represents a perpetuation of the appropriation of the Kennedy assassination by writers of literary and speculative fiction.

King utilises the motif of time travel to present an alternative American history in which Kennedy survives Oswald’s bullet on 22nd November 1963 and presents the assassination as a fixed moment in time which, when altered through the president’s survival in Dallas, creates a nuclear and geological dystopia in the American present. English teacher Jake Epping’s various returns to September 1958 through a time portal in an attempt to erase the Kennedy assassination and, more importantly, the Vietnam war from American history is not, however, represented as a singular transition from the present to a continually reset window in history. Instead, every journey Jake embarks upon through the ‘rabbit-hole’, creates a new, unique timeline which the card men, guardians of the portal, map onto other variants of American history created by previous expeditions.

The severity of Jake’s alteration of history through his prevention of Kennedy’s assassination is coded by King as the catalyst for the creation of a present that contains an American landscape ruined by the ecological ramifications of Jake’s manipulation of linear temporal logic. King’s frequent references to the obdurate nature of history manifest in various resistances to Jake’s prevention of the Kennedy assassination. Jake’s defiance of history, however, creates a reconfiguration of the present in which the absence of Kennedy’s death from history has transformed America into a nuclear wasteland.

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.

Dawn Stobbart is a PhD candidate studying at Lancaster University’s English Department, focusing on the way that videogames function as a carrier for narrative and its role within this medium. She has an interest in contemporary Literature, and especially the way this translates to the videogame.

The alternate reality of aquatic space in Victor Hugo’s fiction.

Gilliatt felt himself plunged into some region of unrealities. He asked himself if all were not a dream? – Victor Hugo, Toilers of the Sea.

Victor Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea (1866; 1896) and The Laughing Man (1869; 1916) both narrate the sea and submarine space as an enigmatic and otherworldly realm. In a seascape of unrelenting brutal wilderness, Hugo’s characters experience an alternate existence: life, history, and consciousness are represented as free-flowing and interchangeable, as Hugo’s narratives fluctuate in and out of conscious thought and reality. The Western cultural understanding of sea space as other, as not-land, allows the seascape to be written as a conceptual and physical space of difference where anything seems possible; it is only in the space of the sea, in the ‘unknown abysses’ (Hugo, 1866; 1896, p.18), that Hugo’s characters experience a physical and psychical othered-ness. Fluctuating between reality and unreality, sanity and insanity, waking thought and dreaming, hallucinations and visions, Hugo writes the dangers and warped realities of an alternate existence at sea.

In this paper I will argue that the othered realm of literary submarine space is immersed in alternate histories and counterfactual narratives. Looking primarily at Toilers of the Sea I will explore the representation of the aquatic as an alternate space which tests knowledge, sanity, and reality. Alongside Hugo’s fiction I will investigate the relevance of Freud and Rolland’s discussion of oceanic feeling, as well as Caroline Rooney and Christopher Connery’s more contemporaneous understandings of this theory. Embodying what is beyond the reach of general knowledge, the sea and submarine are portrayed in nineteenth-century literature as not just unknown but also somehow unknowable: a space simultaneously natural and supernatural, an alternate reality that lingers on the threshold of understanding and life, a counter-existence which can only be explored through the imagination and altered states of consciousness.


I am a bursary funded PhD student at Leeds Beckett University. Currently in my second year of research, my thesis is based on the literature of nineteenth-century submarine space. I studied my BA and MA at Lancaster University, where I respectively achieved first class honours and distinction grades.