Catastrophic weather events, killer animals and plants, and mysterious and deadly plagues have long captivated book and movie lovers, but can they inspire action on climate change?
That’s the question Martin Danahay, a professor in Brock’s Department of English Language and Literature, will explore with students next semester in his new course on eco-horror.
With the new offering, he plans to explore whether horror is an effective way to motivate people to take climate change seriously.
“Climate change is happening in the lives of our students,” he says. “How are they going to respond to it and what could they do in the future?”
Eco-horror is a genre of story that explores humanity’s fears and anxieties about the natural world. Notable examples of films in the genre include Black Lagoon Creature (1954), Jaws (1975) and Planet of the Apes (1968).
“I like to create courses that will be relevant to students’ lives when they leave Brock,” Danahay explains. “I wanted to address climate change, but I am not a climatologist. I teach gothic horror, so I decided to teach a course on climate catastrophe.
Horror is a comforting genre, Danahay says, because viewers can watch movies and then go back to their normal lives. The stories allow people to open up and express some of their fears, but keep them contained within a familiar narrative structure.
To the Victorians, vampires were horrible because they were degenerate, repulsive, and undead. The Victorians had a great fear of sexuality, so their vampires were openly sexual beasts, he says. Modern vampires, however, are far more attractive and are often depicted with superpowers and as being somehow better than humans.
Mummies were also a source of horror for the Victorians, fascinated by ancient Egypt. The idea of mummies killing people in England spoke to their fears of contamination from Egypt.
Danahay’s new course, ENGL 4V74, will focus on 21st century stories, with an emphasis on climate change and virus disasters.
“We had a virus and apparently we still don’t have everything we need to put in place for it to happen again,” he says. “Scientists tell us that because of the proximity of humans to animals, the human-animal interface, it’s going to happen again.”
The course will examine novels, including Post 11which was recently made into a TV series, and Crusted Snow Moon, which explores the collapse of Canadian civilization from the perspective of Indigenous peoples. by Margaret Atwood Oryx and Crake and that of Megan Hunter The end from where we start are also on the agenda. The films will include In the forest and Planet of the Apes.
The humanities perspective of climate change offers an emotional aspect that rational scientific facts alone cannot, Danahay says.
“These horror stories are deliberately meant to induce fear and anxiety,” he says. “The horror genre certainly tries to provoke certain emotions, which may not be entirely pleasant, but they try to provoke you and turn the facts into an understandable narrative.”
More information about the course is available in the Calendar of English language and literature courses.