Panel 1.1 Nostalgia of the Ecological Past

 

Audrey Tayler, Anglia Ruskin University, UK, “Pastoral and Fantasy: A Place in Time?”

In this paper I intend to argue that the pastoral and fantasy, particularly some of the works of Patricia A. McKillip, can be usefully conflated and compared. I will begin with a very brief introduction to pastoral as a historical mode (as modeled by Virgil and other ancient poets), and will then move on to an exploration of more modern, eco-critical ideas of the pastoral like Andrew V. Ettin and Ashton Nichols, who argues in Beyond Romantic Ecocriticism: Toward Urbannatural Roosting that there is space for the urban and the rural in a modern interpretation of the pastoral. Sue Vice argues that “in the more idyllic, pastoral chronotopes, space holds sway over time.” (201) Like the type of fantasy I am examining, pastoralism is rooted in the past, but it is also anchored in landscape. It is this sense of the pastoral that I intend to work with, the connection of a nostalgia and sense of the past with landscape. Nostalgia is often held as a negative, something that prevents people from moving forward. A nostalgic view of the past, however, is not always damaging. Pastoral can be a way of becoming stuck in the past, and is often presented with this regressive, negative view (as is fantasy). But, I would like to argue that both also have transformative power.

 

Bionote: Audrey Taylor just completed a PhD on fantasy literature at Anglia Ruskin University. She is an HEA Associate fellow, and teaches English at the University of Bedfordshire.

 

Polly Atkin, University of Strathclyde, UK, “Fantastic Grasmere: Inheriting the Uncanny”

Grasmere, in the English Lake District, is best known as the home of the poet William Wordsworth and his family during his most productive years. As a place with cultural capital, Grasmere offers a rich ground for subversion. A 1978 postcard, for example, shows King Kong sitting not atop the Empire State Building, but Dove Cottage, Grasmere, Wordsworth’s former home.

The Wordsworths’ Grasmere, contrary to many expectations, abounds with elements of the fantastic and the uncanny: in peculiar circumstances, strange figures, odd atmospheres, and the doubling of circumstances, characters and landscapes. These elements repeat and resonate through time, presenting a Grasmere always haunted by its other incarnations. Similarly, Thomas De Quincey’s works provide some of the most vivid and detailed records of Grasmere in the early nineteenth century, yet also confer on it all the fantastic qualities of a dream: elasticity of time and space, co-presence of the past, the absent, the imaginary and the dead. De Quincey’s ‘dreams’ encompass a ‘spatial uncanny’ which defines his experiences and depictions of the Lake District, and thereby the qualities of the place as passed on to his readers.

This paper explores these tropes as they can be seen resonating through representations of Grasmere, manifesting as fantastic re-imaginings of this culturally over-determined location. It will explore key re-imaginings which show this less familiar face of Grasmere, from Edward Quillinan’s 1829 poem ‘The Birch of Silver Howe’ – which peoples the vale with faeries, and presents key locations as enchanted – to Paul Magrs’ 2008 Dr. Who audiobook The Zygon Who Fell to Earth – which makes De Quincey’s metaphysical Grasmere time-travel literal, and places a dinosaur-like alien being and its ship under the lake. This paper will argue that these fantastic Grasmeres are in continuity with a Wordsworthian Grasmere, and more closely linked to it than one might imagine.

 

Bionote: Polly Atkin is a lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Strathclyde, and holds a 2014/5 Knowledge Exchange Research Fellowship at Lancaster University. She is currently completing her first collection of poetry, and a monograph on Grasmere, exploring the connections between Romantic legacies, contemporary creativity, ecopoetics, tourism and place.

 

Judith Eckenhoff, University of Freiburg, Germany, “Supernatural Wilderness in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest

Marvellous elements feature prominently in many of William Shakespeare’s plays and often plots are set in motion and propelled forward by the forces beyond nature. Yet, although magic and other-worldly beings are essentially supernatural, they are often closely connected to distinctly natural environments. When human characters are thrown into settings of supernatural wilderness—the forest realm of the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the island in The Tempest, home to spirits with the power to govern the elements—they experience substantial transformations as the boundaries between the natural and supernatural worlds are increasingly blurred or altogether suspended. In both plays the setting and the magical occurrences do not simply serve as a backdrop for the action but form an integral part of the plot as magic and the non-human supernatural characters are intricately linked with the natural environment.

Shakespeare’s representation of the wild landscapes and supernatural elements in the two texts highlights different aspects of the relationship between human beings and nature.  Playing with Renaissance conceptions of the natural world, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest share the juxtaposition of their respective settings as natural spaces outside or opposed to human civilization, in which the supernatural creatures are used to allegorically dramatize unseen forces of nature. Magic and the purposes for which it is used—as a means of controlling nature, but also as a manifestation of a nature that is in control of humans—addresses the issues of agency within complex ecological systems as well as the manipulation and exploitation of nature. This paper foregrounds the depiction of the (super)natural landscapes and their inhabitants and, drawing on current ecocritical approaches to Shakespeare’s work, considers the central role of magic in both texts as it depicts and problematizes human dealings with and within nature.

 

Bionote: Judith Eckenhoff studied English and media communication at the University of Bonn and is currently completing her MA degree in Cultural Studies at the University of Freiburg, where she has also been teaching since 2013. Her research centres on the Gothic novel and its descendants, feminism, ecocriticism, and Victorian culture

 

Kaja Franck, University of Hertfordshire, UK, “Hunting the Last Werewolf: Ecology, Fantastika, and the Wilderness of the Imagination”

In the first chapter of Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, the reader is introduced to Jacob Marlowe – the last werewolf of the title – and his future killers, the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomenon. Marlowe accepts that, having been located by the group, he will die and is surprised to find that a faction of this organisation does not want him dead. The reason is simple: the existence of the hunters is connected to the continued survival of werewolves.

This realisation replicates the changing relationship between hunters and their prey at the end of the nineteenth-century, when the hunters realised that they were exterminating animals too efficiently. Extinct animals, such as the dodo, became fantastical and the story of their deaths fables. Thus the dominion of humanity over animals moved towards protecting the natural world leading to the creation of nature reserves. Here, it was hoped, the destructive behaviour of mankind could be excluded so that nature reserves contained an untouched version of the past. The wonderful, strange wilderness was being located within manmade parameters.  Surveillance techniques were used to locate animals who did not acknowledge such boundaries. In the darkly titled ‘Inventing a Beast with No Body’, Charlie Bergman explains how the tagged animal became a disembodied creature haunting an ecologically aware society through the beeping of its collar.

By introducing a supernatural creature into his narrative, Duncan heightens the loss of the fantastical wilderness. This paper argues that his work presents the relationship between the Gothic quality of nature reserves - as areas where the past remains - and Gothic spaces of the imagination which cannot be so easily contained and located. By paralleling ecological concerns with killing the last werewolf, the reader must witness both the death of a supernatural creature and the removal of the fantastic from their lives.

 

Bionote: I am a PhD student at the University of Hertfordshire as part of the ‘Open Graves, Open Minds’ research project. My thesis title is ‘The Development of the Literary Werewolf: Language, Subjectivity and Animal/Human Boundaries’. My particular interest is ecoGothic and how this affects our understanding of hybrid monsters.