Company of Wolves, 3rd-5th September 2015

Posted by Kaja Franck on July 28, 2015 in Guest Blog, Kaja Franck, News tagged with , , , , , ,

In Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf (2011), one of the characters states that ‘Werewolves are not a subject for the academe‘. Though this is a little sobering if you are undertaking a PhD on werewolves, I’d suggest that the past few years have shown that this is not the case. Leslie Sconduto’s Metamorphoses of the Werewolf (2008) has given a classical depth to the study of lycanthropy in literature whilst Sky’s Penny Dreadful (2014-) has made their sole American character, the lupine Ethan Chandler, into a twisted version of Stoker’s Quincey Morris from Dracula (1887). With werewolves (-dogs?) being gangsters in Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth (2007), aboard the Titanic in Claudia Gray’s Fateful (2011), and jumping from literature to television with the adaptation of Hemlock Grove (2012) by Brian McGreevy for Netflix, it seems time for an extended academic consideration of these Gothic monsters.

With this in mind, I am excited to announce that registration has opened for the Company of Wolves conference at the University of Hertfordshire as part of the Open Graves Open Minds Project. This project was initiated in 2010 with the Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture conference and reconvened for the Bram Stoker Centenary Symposium in 2012. The Company of Wolves turns its attention to creatures which are not strictly undead but often closely related to vampires (to the point of being unable to emerge from under the shadow of the vampire’s cloak). Described by Emily Gerard as ‘First-cousin to the vampire’, in The Land Beyond the Forest (1888), werewolves and shapeshifters have recently been represented as second-class monsters – a trope which is

exemplified in the recent Underworld movies (2003-2012) in which the Lycans are enslaved under a vampire elder. However, such beings have served to question our notion of humanity and the human subject; weres tend to reveal the complex affinities and differences between our existence as linguistic, social subjects and our physiological continuity with other animals. They draw our attention to questions of hierarchy and sexuality, to the instinctive, and to what extent our conceptions of these are ideological.

The Company of Wolves will consider how werewolves, shapeshifters and feral humans are, and have been, represented in literature, folklore, movies, and popular culture. The conference will include fifty speakers across an array of panels as well as extracurricular activities: a visit to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust for a chance to see wolves; a trip to Peter the Wild Boy’s Grave – a feral child who was discovered in Hanover in 1724; and a ‘Lycanthropic Lantern of Fear’ show. These will help us to stretch our minds, and legs, as we consider the overlap between fiction, reality and our fear of the animal as Other. Being able to see wolves themselves engages with the recent rewilding movement in Britain, explicated in George Monbiot’s Feral (2013), and the Gothic notion of the uncanny. Wolves, a once native species, are examples of the familiar made unfamiliar, or the heimlich becoming unheimlich. Having been exterminated from the British Isles, they are making their slow return. Whilst feral children disturb the notions of how we become, or are made, human – particularly apt phrasing if we consider the title of Being Human (2010-2013) which gave us an insight into how monstrous Others, including George the Werewolf, try to reclaim their humanity.

The key note speakers for the conference are:

Dr Stacey Abbott, Reader in Film and TV Studies, University of Roehampton, ‘Creatures of the Night, What Music They Make’: The Sound of the Cinematic Werewolf’

Sir Christopher Frayling, ‘Inside the Bloody Chamber: Angela Carter’s Wolves’

Dr Sam George, Senior Lecturer in Literature, University of Hertfordshire, Convener Open Graves, Open Minds Project, ‘This is What it Sounds Like When Wolves Cry: Storytelling, Wolf Children, and the State of Nature’

Dr Bill Hughes, Open Graves, Open Minds, ‘The Call of the Wild: From Preternatural Pastoral to Paranormal Romance’

Neil Jordan, Director, The Company of Wolves (1984)

Prof. Garry Marvin, Human and Animal Studies, University of Roehampton, ‘Cultural Images of the Wolf and the Wolves’ Re-emergence in Europe’

Marcus Sedgwick, Writer, ‘Fictional Representations of Wolf or Feral Children’, in conversation for OGOM.

Dr Catherine Spooner, Reader in Literature and Culture, University of Lancaster, ‘Wearing the Wolf’: Wolves, Fur and Fashion, from Nineteenth-Century Werewolf Stories to Alexander McQueen’

With opportunity for lively and engaged discussion, the Company of Wolves conference will be a chance to learn more about our hirsute alter-egos and what they tell us about being or not-being human.

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