The Garden of Earthly Delights



English 202: Monsters in Literature and Culture

HOPW  017*  9-11:30am M-F

*was Thom 201

Dr. Chidsey Dickson  

Office: 222 Carnegie Phone: 544-8110

Office Hours MWF 11:30-12:30 or by appt.

Course Description:

This class offers a survey of “monster” literature from sea monsters, Cyclops and Earthdragons of the classical period to the contemporary monstrous murderers of serial killer lore and slasher films. While at first we’ll focus on monsters as fantastical creatures, in second week we’ll begin to investigate more the notion of the “monstrous” and all of its permuations (grosteque, ugly, disgusting, satanic, uncanny, etc). Monsters often embody borderline concepts, things we worry about so we’ll explore the kind of cultural work done by “Othering” (persecuting monsters or projecting monstrosity onto some people). We’ll talk about how the fear and disgust evoked by monsters and monstrous individuals mask or reveal cultural values and assumptions. Finally, we will consider several “postmodern” representations of monsters (Freddie Krueger, Salad Fingers, and the tragic hero in Hal Hartley’s No Such Thing).

Required Materials

On Ugliness. Ed. Umberto Eco. Trans. Alastair McEwen.

The Old Child: Jenny Erpenbeck

Sexing the Cherry, Jeanette Winterson

Pop 1280, Jim Thompson

The Tempest, Shakespeare

Macbeth, Shakespeare

Readings (packet)


Course Goals

The course provides opportunities and support for learning to:

  • do close readings of texts from unfamiliar periods and genre
  • appreciate the importance of a reader’s response to the realization of a literary work’s meaning
  • understand how conflicting interpretations can deepen the appreciation of works of art
  • be able to discuss the value of literature for understanding the complexity of living


Quality and Quantity of Blackboard Writing & Class Participation 






Final (Take-Home) Exam


Description of Assignments

à Blackboard Discussion

You will write one-two single-spaced, typed pages of journal writing (on Blackboard) BEFORE 2pm on the day of every class.

You will read ALL your peers journal entries and RESPOND to one BEFORE class (9am). I will look at these journals over the semester and grade (at random) 6-8 entries at the end of the semester. You simply miss those days. You can miss two journals and one response without penalty.

Grading rubric for Blackboard Discussion:

A: EXCELLENT: the writing begins by explaining how one of the central questions in the class can be addressed by the text under consideration (sometimes this accomplished by comparing/contrasting the assigned text with a previous reading); there is some close attention to details in the text (a character foil, a scene, an important plot incident). The journal and response writing clearly shows a person making discoveries about the work and not simply skimming the surface for the obvious answer.

B to C: the writing does the job but doesn’t mention the text in a meaningful way and doesn’t show too much interest in figuring out some of the tough questions we’re puzzling out in the class

à Essay

3 pages, typed, double-spaced. See hand-out for specifics. Grading rubric:

A: the writer describes a key scene or feature of a work for the reader assuming the reader has not read the work; the writer identifies a question or problem that a particular writer tries to work out in a literary work; the writer’s developmental paragraphs take the reader up close to the scenes and the language of the text; the writing is well-organized (topic sentences and transition devices) and proofread.

B: the writer attempts everything described above but doesn’t quite achieve the goals.

C-D: the writer discusses a thematic issue in the work but doesn’t find one that really raises a question that merits thinking about; much of the essay is a rehashing of plot; the writing has some problems with general coherence and surface error.

à Pop Reading Quizzes

Can be: couple IDs (who’s talking), a couple plot details (what happens), and some short answer questions.

à Final Exam

Write three essays (2-3 pages, double-spaced, typed) from 8 possible prompts

Absences and Lateness

I will take roll at 9:03 am. If you’re not there then, you will be marked 1/2 day absent.

You can miss one day (or be late twice) and not suffer any consequences. Every absence after the first one costs your semester grade 1/2 letter grade. So, if you miss three classes, and your scores put you at a B+, your semester grade is a C+. If you miss four, you’re at a C. And so on.

Basically, you have to be here and you have to be on time!


If you have specific disabilities and require accommodations, please let me know immediately so your learning needs may be appropriately met.  You will need to provide documentation of your disability to the Support Services Coordinator in the Academic Advising Office (extension 8419) in order to have reasonable accommodations arranged and faculty notified. 


Plagiarism is a serious act of intellectual theft and will not be tolerated. All language and ideas you derive from sources other than your own fecund imaginations must be credited.

Note: Simply copying what others have said in their Blackboard posts and changing around a few words for your journal entry counts as plagiarism. You must do your own work for this class or else its not worth your time or mine.

Schedule of Assignments (note: many readings are in the packet)

M 8

Introduction to the literary and mythological analysis; discussion of ‘real’ monsters (Eco’s essay “How To Speak of Animals,” Plumwood’s narrative essay, “Being Prey,” & excerpt from Quammen’s Monster of God)

T 9                                          Classical Monsters

Homer’s Odyssey, Book IX; selections from Job and Beowulf; On Ugliness pgs 34-41 (lots of pictures)


Optional: On Ugliness pgs 8-33 (lots of pictures)


In class: discussion of mythological monsters via Professor Elizabeth Vandiver’s video lecture on “Monstrous Females and Female Monsters” in Ancient Greek Culture


W 10                                  Classical Monsters

Shakespeare’s The Tempest Read: Plot overview Then Read the play.


R 11                                          Gothic Monsters

 Frankenstein (excerpts)

From The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories: Fragment of a Novel (Lord Byron), The Vampyre (Polidori), Dracula’s Guest (Stoker), The Transfer (Blackwood), Drink My Blood (Matheson); On Ugliness pgs 203-240 (lots of pictures)

Optional: On Ugliness pgs 179-202 (lots of pictures)


F 12                            What’s it Like to Be a Monster?

Montaigne, “Of a Monstrous Child”; Shields, “Super Heroes” & “Dying Just a Little” (re: Anorexia); Johnson, excerpts from The Fear of Beggars: Stewardship and Poverty in Christian Ethics); Miller, excerpts from The Anatomy of Disgust; Read 1/3 of Erpenbeck’s Old Child


M 15                           What’s it Like to Be a Monster?

Finish Erpenbeck’s Old Child & read ½ of Sexing The Cherry

Optional On Ugliness pgs 241-310 (lots of pictures)

T 16                                            The Monstrous Female Revisited

Finish Sexing the Cherry & some of Macbeth

Optional On Ugliness pgs 159-178 (lots of pictures)

W 17                            The Monstrous (Killer)

Halttunen, Murder Most Foul (excerpts); ½ of Pop. 1280; some more of Macbeth



R 18                                            The Monstrous (Killer)

Finish Pop. 1280 ; Faulkner, “A Rose For Emily” ; Klosterman, “This is Zodiac Speaking” and finish Macbeth

F 19                                     The Monstrous (Uncanny)

“From Wikipedia: Some Psychoanalytic Concepts: The Uncanny,” Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu.” Poe, “Ms Found in a Bottle,” & Ambrose Bierce, “The Damned Thing”:

On Ugliness pgs 311-332 (lots of pictures)

M 22                                             Goth Monsters

Du Plesisis, “’Goth Damage’ and Melancholia” & Edmundson, “Nightmare on Main Street” (in the first packet/handout)

Optional On Ugliness pgs 391-440 (lots of pictures)

Class time: Watch Movie: Ginger Snaps

T 23                                      Horror  & Humor

Lewis, “One, Two, Freddy’s Coming for You”

Class time: Watch Movie: Pyscho (Hitchcock)

W 24                                             The Scary Movie

Magistrale, excerpts from Abject Terrors: Surveying the Modern and Postmodern Horror Film

Class Time: Watch Short: The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (Lucas)

R  25                                      The ‘Scary’ Movie


F 26 Exam and Essay Due