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Course at Georgetown Looks at Monsters in Books, Film

2012 Monster Photo

Monsters tend to be the projections of qualities that humans don't want to accept in themselves, according to Niles Tomlinson, who teaches a Georgetown English course on monsters and literature.

October 30, 2012 – Every week is a kind of academic Halloween for students taking a course at Georgetown called Monsters in Literature, Film and Culture.

“Monsters are fascinating because they tend to be the projections of every quality that humans do not wish to accept in themselves,” says Niles Tomlinson, who teaches the course. “In this sense, monsters serve, ironically, as the safeguards of the human.” 

Students in the class read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H.G. Wells and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, among other texts. And they watch Blade Runner – The Final Cut (2007), directed by Ridley Scott and write essays about what they’ve read and seen.

“Monsters also reveal the dominant cultural anxiety of any given time period” adds Tomlinson, who received his Ph.D. in English from The George Washington University in 2008. “We focus primarily on monsters associated with scientific and technological revolutions, as these rapid advances tend to produce a sense of dread that humans are being outpaced by their own creations.”

Tomlinson, whose scholarly work focuses on the human/animal hybrid, says he is most interested in monsters that are “outcast, persecuted, or imprisoned" for no reason other than how they appear, such as the creature in Frankenstein, the beast folk in Island of Dr. Moreau or the cyborgs in Blade Runner.

“They are often reflections of their creator's arrogance and socio-pathology, which invites us to ask whether the creator is more monstrous than the creation,” he says. 

His favorite monster of all time is the minotaur.

“He is not only a human/animal hybrid,” Tomlinson says, “but also the inhabitant of the labyrinth – perhaps the most relevant metaphor for the kinds of systematic monstrosity found in our own cultural moment.”

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