Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Dark Hero: Demonic, Deranged and Cursed

On Thursday I was told that my new unit, The Dark Hero: Demonic, Deranged and Cursed, has been approved to run next year at Monash. It has a new Arts-faculty-wide unit code: ATS2914/ATS3914.

I have wanted to run a course like this for a very long time. One of my favourite honours courses at the University of Tasmania was The Byronic Hero, but the particular type of Byronic-Hero stories that have always attracted my attention are the ones with a supernatural element: Marlow's Faustus, Milton's Satan, Beckford's Vathek, Byron's Cain.

When I was a teenager I lived on a constant diet of fantasy and horror stories, books on witchcraft and the occult, and Hammer Horror films, so I ended up reading Stoker's Dracula and Goethe's Faust as soon as I had enough of my own money to buy them.

From memory, both were second-hand copies from the Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult series, which were pretty common, and cheap, in op-shops, garage sales and book exchanges at the time.

I had quite a few "Library of the Occult" volumes at one stage, before I went to university and decided I was far too mature for that sort of thing. And, since I always needed more book-money, I decided to sell the lot. I don't remember what I spent the money on, but it is a decision I soon, and have long, regretted!

I recently started buying replacement copies of some of the paperbacks that I sold then, but the books are a lot harder to find and a lot more expensive now. (Which reminds me of that saying "no man is rich enough to buy back his past.") The images below are taken from one such recent—nostalgic—purchase; appropriate, yes?

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The type of "Dark Hero" that my new course focusses on is everywhere in modern fiction, film and TV: David Boreanaz as Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) and Angel (1999–2004), Johnny Depp as Dean Corso (The Ninth Gate (1999), the whole League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Heath Ledger as The Dark Knight (2008) and Ian Somerhalder as Damon Salvatore (The Vampire Diaries (2010), but you could include almost every supernatural romance and romantic vampire hero in this list.

But the focus of my unit is on the ur-texts, the Dark Heroes of the Early Modern, Modern and Romantic periods. The synopsis runs as follows:

The unit is designed to introduce students to the development of the Dark or Satanic Hero in a range of major English texts selected to illustrate the tremendous impact and popularity of this powerful figure in the Romantic Period. Writers such as Marlow, Milton, Beckford, Lewis and Byron created defiant heroes who embody radical individualism, self-sufficiency and ambition, but who are isolated, gloomy and dissatisfied by their revolt against God, government and society. Special attention will be given to the relationship between the Dark and Byronic Heroes in the nineteenth century and the survival and transformation of this figure in the vampires and villains of contemporary culture.

I haven't decided on the final text list yet. There are a few I haven't read that I am considering, like Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya: or The Moor (1806) and Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820); there is also a lot of poetry to choose from, apart from Byron's “Manfred” (1816–17) and “Cain” (1822), like B├╝rger’s “Lenore” (1773); Goethe's “The Bride of Corinth” (1797); Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798) and “Christabel” (1797–1800), and Keats' “La Belle Dame sans Merci” (1819). Narrowing down the list will be a real challenge. But fun. Lots of fun.

[UPDATE: 2 July 2016: After all my pictures disappeared again I decided to give up on external hosts for large versions (1000px) of my image files and, for now on, will stick with the smaller images (500px), which Blogger is prepared to host.]

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