Wednesday, 29 November 2017

A Very Ghostly Christmas

Its the most wonderful time of year: with parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, caroling out in the snow, and, of course, scary ghost stories! Yes, tied to the festive season is a long tradition of sharing terrifying ghost stories, and where better to look for scary ghost stories than the Nineteenth Century.

This holiday season Sheffield Gothic and the Centre for Nineteenth Century Studies have banded together to swap some chilling ghost stories from the Nineteenth Century, and you're invited too! Whether you want to dip into our pre-selected stories, or bring your own Nineteenth Century ghost story (or ghost, preferably of the friendly variety), everyone is welcome. Our selected stories can be easily found online, but if you have trouble finding them email - read as many ghost stories from our list as you want, but remember you don't have to read them all! And if you would like to suggest another ghost story, then tweet us at @SheffieldGothic.

Our festive and spooky reading group will take place on Thursday 7 December from 5-6 pm in Jessop West, G.03, and festive snacks will be provided.

#Christmas Ghost Stories #GothsAssemble #19thCenturyGoths

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Gothic Bible: The Phantom of Eden

The following post by Christopher Scott is part of an ongoing 'Gothic Bible Blog Series' and part of the Gothic Bible project, a collaborative project run by Sheffield Gothic and SIIBS at the University of Sheffield, and also the University of Auckland. You can find out more about the project here, and if you want to contribute to the blog series you can email us at Gothic or tweet us at @GothicBible.

Satan as the Masked Antagonist in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera (1986)

Even after its thirtieth anniversary, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical The Phantom of the Opera (1986) continues to amaze audiences.  For regular weekend showings, including a matinee performance on Saturdays, a typical ticket sells between £49 and £129.  Among the musical’s competitors, Phantom reigns supreme as the longest running show on London’s West End.  That the spectacle still fills Her Majesty’s Theatre and garners success thirty years later constitutes a remarkable feat.  This timeless quality of Phantom invites nuanced interpretive analyses by critics and academics alike.  Jerrold E. Hogle published a monograph on Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l'Opéra (1910), the novel from which Webber orchestrated his musical rendition.  As Leroux’s novel bears the markings of the Gothic aesthetic, which Hogle discusses in his study, Webber’s spectacle stages an interaction between the titular villain and the Gothic heroine, a relationship that bears striking similarity to that found in the archetypal Gothic narrative, The Castle of Otranto (1764).[i]    But as I watched the performance of The Phantom of the Opera for the first time, something else arrested my attention—something biblical.  Focusing closely on the spectacle’s characterization, mise en scène, and choreography, I progressively recognized the scriptural simulacrum.  The eponymous Phantom and Christine mirrored Satan and Eve in Genesis 3.  Utilizing both Gothic and biblical prisms when observing Phantom yields a magnified perception of Eden’s notorious tempter as he takes the form of the masked villain in Webber’s staged version of Leroux’s novel.

When the lights in Her Majesty’s Theatre dimmed and the curtain parted, I anxiously awaited the notorious Phantom.  Yet to my dismay, the opening scenes depicted an opera about the Carthaginian conqueror Hannibal Barca (247-183/1 BCE).  What?  Hannibal?  Where’s the Phantom?  Set in a Parisian opera house, Phantom opens with a frame narrative about Hannibal; strategically, it lulls the audience into a false sense of comfort.  Then it happens.  BOOM!  A body drops from the rafters, and the bewildered actors below assume the nefarious event confirms the work of the Phantom.  (When the corpse flew down into the scene, the spectators sitting to my left actually jumped in shock!)  But my initial impatience still lingered.  Where was the Phantom?  During the opening of the performance the Phantom fails to appear, and his existence is questioned continually by the characters.  The musical’s titular antagonist exists as a myth to some—a harbinger of death to others.  The Phantom is simultaneously present and absent, for the notion of his looming intrusion lingers throughout the performance.  This characterization of the Phantom confers a notion of incorporeality, and after the audience wade through a deluge of speculation, the Phantom finally appears.  He materializes, though, only for Christine, Webber’s heroine, and does so only through a transparent mirror in her dressing room.  The Phantom’s interaction with her bears an intimacy unlike any other in the performance.  As she offers him her hand, he pulls her through the mirror into a numinous dimension, and the orchestra commences a melody that accompanies a subterranean descent. 

(The Phantom seduces Christine)
The Phantom and Christine’s journey through labyrinthine passageways rivals that of Walpole’s Isabella.  Descending into the bowels of the earth, corridor by corridor, they arrive at the Phantom’s lair, reminiscent of a Christian cathedral. But rather than showcasing any religious iconography, this underground chamber boasts a chiaroscuro that portrays more of an inquisitor’s oubliette than the interior of any sacred Christian structure. The Phantom operates within this mysterious underworld, and from here his ostensible omnipresence inundates the remainder of the performance.  One moment he occupies the rafters; another moment his shadow is visible behind the curtain.  Though the audience and other characters observe him, the possibility always remains that he may be incorporeal.  Observed in the context of his nature, actions, and influence on Christine, the Phantom reflects a diabolical image.

When I arrived at Her Majesty’s Theatre, I never expected to encounter a spectacle centred on Satan—that is, an allegorical Satan.  But the Phantom and Christine’s descent through Gothic labyrinths to an underground netherworld eventually leads to a pivotal scene in the spectacle, one that imitates the biblical scene in Genesis 3.  The Phantom desires to have his own dramatic piece performed with Christine as its lead actress.  During the performance, he clandestinely enters the climactic scene, clad and hooded in black, singing a duet with her titled ‘The Point Of No Return’.  The mise en scène and choreography that accompany this musical piece synergize into a scene of seduction wherein the Phantom tempts Christine to eat an apple as she sings the words ‘point of no return’.  Satan’s triumph over Eve in the biblical garden also results in a literal ‘point of no return’ or, in other words, her ignominious expulsion from Eden.  Presenting a spectral seducer, a solitary female, and an apple between them, Webber composes a key moment in the spectacle that suggests an allegorical interpretation of the Phantom’s satanic identity.

[i] See Jerrold E. Hogle, The Undergrounds of The Phantom of the Opera: Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux’s Novel and Its Progeny. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

Christopher Scott is a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, focusing primarily on Edwardian fiction and with a particular interest in the literary Gothic mode, theological iconography, and representations of the natural environment in literature and film. Co-director of the Gothic Bible project, we can confirm that Christopher does not perform his research in subterranean chambers. 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Dopplegangers 02 - Carmilla

Hey goth fans, it’s adaptation time! In the spotlight this month is a Victorian vamp-tastic classic, Carmilla!

Carmilla, the original novella, is one of the earlier literary incarnations of everyone’s favourite bloodsucking fiend (beating Dracula to the punch by a whole 25 years) and, as such, has been adapted many times for many different medium; stage, screen, Youtube series, even an opera. Grab your cape and prosthetic fangs and let this post take you on a haunted carriage ride through some of the more notable incarnations of this of the OG Lady of the Night.

Carmilla – Sheridan Le Fanu. 

(Illustration from The Dark Blue by D. H. Friston, 1872)
Carmilla was originally serialised in the short lived magazine, The Dark Blue, between 1871 and 1872 and later released as part of Le Fanu’s short story collection, In a Glass Darkly. (While The Dark Blue is little remembered today, in its day it drew some serious literary clout back in top hat times, with contributions submitted by Ford Maddox Brown, Gabriel Rossetti, A.C. Swinburne and William Morris). The tale is built on, by then, classic gothic tropes (desolate castle + alluring stranger + mysterious illness = awesome) but Le Fanu added some of his own ingredients to the mix to create something new. The most striking to the modern reader is the depictions on female homosexual desire. While it isn’t explicated stated that the two leads are engaged in a sexual relations and, in the Victorian era the physical boundaries of female friendship were marked differently than they are today, I mean, come on, the heroine wonders if Carmilla is really a boy in disguise coming to woo her, such is Carmilla’s erotically charge conduct towards her (lesbian subtext 4LYFE!). Other interpretations read the text as allegory of the political situation in Ireland, with Carmilla playing the role of a parasitic Catholic and our heroine Laura as the threated Protestant ruling class. It was said that Le Fanu was inspired by sources such as Antoine Augustin Calmet’s Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants of Hungary, Moravia, et al. (which sounds totally baller) and Samuel Coleridge’s unfinished poem, ‘Christabel’. Carmilla’s characterisation was said to be informed by Le Fanu’s experiences of living with his mental ill wife, whose death he never fully got over.

Vampyr (1932)

German/French co-production, Vampyr, is a loose adaption of the directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. The plot concerns a student of the occult, Allan Grey, who, upon spending a night in the inn of a village, finds the place in thrall of a vampire menace. The film is dreamlike and plain weird in parts, intentional so; Dreyer said he ‘Wanted to create a waking dream on screen and show that horror is not to be found in the things around us but in our own subconscious.’ Its unusual filming techniques, such has filming scenes through gauze, have more in common with experimental film Le Chien Anadalou than your average horror flick. The trance-like imagery and disjointed narrative was met by contemporary audiences with indifference and confusion. After a screening in Vienna a full scale riot broke out after the theatre refused to refund punters’ money.  Vampyr was the director’s first film using sound. Dreyer still used title cards extensively; dialogue was keep to a minimum and was littler there was had to mouthed three times over by the actors in French, English and German, to allow for dubbing later. Most of the cast were not profession actors  either;  the village doctor was found on a Paris metro and our hero, Allan Gray, was played by a French born Russian noble as a condition for bankrolling the film. If that sounds up your alley, then the whole thing can be found for free on YouTube.

The Vampire Lovers (1970).

The first of Hammer Horrors trilogy of Karnstein films, The Vampire Lovers was one of the more faithful adaptions up until that point. At the time of filming, Hammer was suffering from one of its periodic slumps. Unable to compete with a new wave of grittier horror films, it decided to double down on the other strand in their cinematic arsenal: boobs. Unlike most of Hammer’s output, this story did not originate as an in-house production, it was brought to them by outside producers who figured a Carmilla adaption would sell well and pitched it the most appropriate studio. Hammer turns the sexy up to eleven including full frontal nudity and actual gay kissing. While not particularly explicit by today’s standards, it was considered fairly racy at the time. Keeping the film from become an exploitative shlock-fest was the character and performance of Carmilla (played by Ingrid Pitt), who was portrayed with sympathy and depth. This could be down to the director Roy Barker, who is recorded as saying he had tremendous respect for the source material. In addition, this version has a be-caped Peter Cushing beading the vamp and holding up the severed head dripping Kensington Gore; what more could you ask for is your 70s horror flick?

Carmilla: A Vampire Tale (1970)

Rock n roll! This telling of Carmilla adapted the novella into a rock/chamber opera., It was created by the innovative East Village theatre company La MaMA, written by Wilford Leach and scored by Ben Johnson. The two main characters, Laura and Carmilla, spend most of the play sat next to each other on a couch, singing into microphones. The rest of the characters are played by wooden faces carved into the couch – the actors covered their face in wood-like make up and peered through holes whilst crouching down behind the couch. It was praised for its use of multi-media stage design, with film projections running in the background through most of the play. It had a fair amount of success too, enough at least to take it on tour through Europe. Today the production has something of a cult following; recordings of the play surface in second hand markets from time to time, but it is a bit of a collector’s item now. Definitely due for a revival.

Carmilla – webseries (2014)

Brining the legacy of Carmilla into bang up to date is Canadian webseries Carmilla, first screened on YouTube. The series ran for three seasons and one mini ‘pre-season’ and has been made into a feature length film, which, at the time of writing, should have just been released. The action takes place in a Silas University (a nod to Le Fanu’s novel ‘Uncle Silas’) where Laura, a journalism freshman, begins keeping a vlog (I love that YouTube and other such online platforms have given us the opportunity to reshape the epistolary novel in a way that makes sense to modern audiences and that creators seem hellbent on reviving classical literature as the testing ground for this new medium). Soon after started the vlog, Laura’s roommate disappears and is replaced by the mysterious Carmilla. Carmilla is a vampire very much in the Byronic mould, dark and just a wee bit moody. You would too if you were at three hundred and odd years old and still forced to do your mother’s bidding, in this case, bringing her all the nice young girls you meet to be used as human sacrifices. The two fall in love, there’s intrigue, character growth, all that good stuff. In a radical break with the previous adaptations, the relationship between the two leads isn’t used as evidence of Carmilla as demonic and ‘other’ nature; Carmilla’s sexuality just is, with other elements in the show providing the threat to the safety of the heroine. The series has been praised by, well, everyone, but has found a special place in the hearts of many in the LGBTQ community for its positive depictions of queer identity. It’s free on YouTube, so go check it out.

Honourable Mentions

Polish TV version (1982) – Super hard to find rendition of the novella, this black and white Polish adaptation is overall pretty faithful to the original text. This adaptation brings Laura’s isolation to the fore; she is starved for interest and pleasure and this need informs how she interacts with Carmilla. The ending strongly hints that Laura too becomes a vampire.

Nightmare Classics: Carmilla (1989) – Ever wanted to know what Carmillla would be like if it was set in the antebellum south? Now you can! This American mini-series focuses more heavily on the dysfunctional relationship between Laura and her father and lets her play a much more active role, eventual being the one dispatch Carmilla.

Castlevania (1987 – 2014) – Couldn’t resist mentioning this one. Carmilla is a recurring boss character in the Castlevania franchise and acts as the henchman of Dracula (she is waaaaay into Dracy). Which kinda sucks as Carmillla is an Independent Woman TM, but does mean that she is wicked powerful. She loves bathing in blood, organised witch trials for those who wouldn’t side with her Dark Lord and in one incarnation drops fireballs at you whilst draped naked over a floating skull. That is just cool.

Claire Healey is a lover of all things dark, moody, and eye-liner-y, and, if you couldn't tell, a huge fan of Carmilla and its many adaptations. Sheffield Gothic is firm in the belief that Claire does not go around befriending women in the hope that they will join her in vampiric endeavours.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Gothic Bible: Religious Belief & The Gothic Village in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Part Two)

The following post by Emily Marlow, concluding her exploration of religious belief and the Gothic village in The Witcher 3 (you can read Part One here) is part of an ongoing 'Gothic Bible Blog Series' and part of the Gothic Bible project, a collaborative project run by Sheffield Gothic and SIIBS at the University of Sheffield, and also the University of Auckland. You can find out more about the project here, and if you want to contribute to the blog series you can email us at Gothic or tweet us at @GothicBible. 

Velen is tellingly referred to as ‘No Man’s Land.’ It is a vast swamp land that, as of the beginning of the game, has recently played the role of the battlefield for a war between the Empire of Nilfgaard, and the Northern Kingdoms. The two factions have attacked from the North and South of Velen, leaving nothing but bloody wastelands and devastation in their wake.

As Geralt you traverse these desolate landscapes and are constantly told by outsiders that Velen is a harsh, rotting mire of a place, not worthy of attention or care. Despite these proclamations and warnings, there is much raw, sublime beauty to be found in Velen. There are gloriously bright sunsets to watch, breathtakingly high peaks to climb with spectacular views on offer, there are magically moonlit woods to wander, sweet cottages with well-tended, rustic gardens to stay in. This is a place of surprising beauty, but of course, it is also home to many a monster.

The villagers who populate Velen may be extremely wary (if not downright racist) when you first approach them as Geralt. To these villagers Geralt, as a Witcher, and perhaps more pressingly, as a man with bright gold cat’s eyes, is a very distinct ‘Other.’ He is a being straight out of myth. This makes the supplications they offer him, in the form of bounties and sometimes, desperate roadside cries, all the more notable. In Velen, times are tough. There is little time for discussions on the merits of faith or devotion, or of whether one should or shouldn’t believe.

Ritual in Velen is distinctly pagan. Many rituals occur at night time, in the open air of forests, woods, by the rivers or in ramshackle abandoned castles. One such ritual is that of Forefather’s Eve, or in Polish, Dziady. The quest takes its name from a real world ritual that itself was the subject of an 1822 romantic era polish poetic drama by Adam Mickiewic.

In the quest Geralt is asked to protect a pellar and the participating villagers from Witch Hunters and other monsters (this time Hags) who attempt to break up the ritual. The choice presented to the player is one of either fighting the Witch Hunters (who claim that the ritual, in which the spirits of the dead are communicated with – is Necromancy) or standing by as they attack the pellar. Whilst the Pellar has already been portrayed as a strange character – an old man wearing a necklace made of chicken feet, living on the edge of a village who has a ‘special’ relationship with his goat Princess, the Witch Hunters are depicted as outright brutes that Geralt visibly dislikes. Perhaps coincidentally they all have thick, almost cockney English accents, as opposed to the slightly Irish/Welsh voices of the villagers. As we all know from films, the English are always evil.

It is repeatedly impressed upon the player that the people of Velen are participating in these rituals because they have to, not necessarily because they want to. This can be seen to form an interesting comment on class divides as in Velen, belief and ritual are uncomfortable necessities, performed by peasants standing knee deep in swamps or by the side of a road, whereas in Novigrad, religion is a distinctly oppressive force controlled by the rich and powerful, acted out in a temple located at the very summit of the city.

Novigrad  is portrayed as a vast, free city, covering an in-game area of around 72km²,  something just a bit smaller than the real world size of Milton Keynes. Despite its pretence as a free city, in Novigrad the Church of the Eternal Fire rules supreme from a vast, nearly entirely gold church. The Church’s religion is based around fire worship, with fire representing purity. This belief in fire’s purification properties is visualised in the way in which members use fire, mainly, to burn alive anyone they consider as a threat, especially ‘Other’ beings, such as supernatural creatures, and people who possess magical powers.

The Church has very little discernible doctrine outside of ‘magic users are bad’ and acts primarily as an antagonistic force used to demonstrate how ‘Other’ Geralt and his friends are.  This is often portrayed as a political, racially charged doctrine, speaking of optional exclusions, rather than the desperate necessitity or ‘natural order’ that is used to define Velen’s beliefs. Magic users and other supernatural beings are depicted as having complex, overlapping belief systems with extensive histories, rituals and lore.

Geralt can visit the Church’s grand temple but cannot enter into it. He cannot take part in any of the Church’s rituals. By shutting these locations and aspects to the player the game encourages the player to view the Church as something inaccessible to them, which in turn could suggest a feeling of unreality, if we are to follow the line that interactivity allows for immersion and therefore believability. By not allowing the player to interact with the religious space they are prevented from generating empathy towards the church. 

Geralt does have various interactions with members of the Church, however nearly all of these are negative. In one of the first dealings with a Church member, a wandering Priest, Geralt is hired to burn the bodies of dangerous Necrophages scattered across the country side. Geralt completes this ritual twice before finding out that some of the bodies he has been burning were actually humans who had been killed by the Priest, who has been buying drugs off bandits and attempted to kill them via the ghouls, hiring Geralt to actually cover his tracks.

In Novigrad, Geralt is continuously accosted by members of the Church’s Witch Hunter enforcement group, who often call him a Monster, make racist comments about his appearance or straight out start fights with him.  By creating a gigantic opulent church that the player cannot interact with, and by having religious characters react negatively to the player without any real reason, the feeling of ‘Otherness’ is increased, aligning the player even further with the supernatural and the members of the neglected villages.

The Witcher creates a gothic landscape by both including and subverting Gothic tropes. It takes the definitively gothic trope of the haunted, desolate swamp land and shows you a space where raw beauty is evident. It includes stereotypical creatures of the Gothic and gives them added depth, allowing the player to assess for themselves whether they are to be feared, trusted, or even pitied.

The Witcher encourages sympathy for the peoples of the Gothic Village of Velen by placing them in the same position of helplessness as that of the daemon in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Like the daemon, it is easy to see the people of Velen as ‘…a representation (of) the exploited or oppressed class in society…the English industrial working class.’ [i] Whilst Geralt himself is not actually a part of these communities directly he too is demonised by the ruling class. Like the daemon he is called a monster, an abomination, and by showing this in parallel with the suffering of the people of Velen the game creates a kinship between the two parties.

By overwhelming the player with a landscape full of supernatural beings, and by creating a character for whom the supernatural is the norm, the game creates a world in which the supernatural IS natural, and the supposedly natural, or the aesthetically beautiful is actually found to be illusory, fake, false.  In The Witcher, the ‘real’ religion is portrayed as mere finger puppets for a racially motivated regime, whereas the ‘occult’ and the supernatural are given time, consideration, and space, and are shown to be made up of ‘real’ living people with mostly innocent and honest concerns. By extension, and again, like Frankenstein, The Witcher is a world where it is not the monsters but the humans who are monstrous.

Emily Marlow is a PhD researcher within SIIBS at the University of Sheffield, exploring religion and sexuality video games. She is currently researching Dragon Age romances, and is particularly fond of romances that involve the Iron Bull. Part of the Gothic Bible project, she is also the brains behind Gaming the Gothic which you can follow on twitter at @GamingTheGothic. 

[i] Nicholas Marsh, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, p. 177

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Gothic Bible: Religious Belief & The Gothic Village in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Part One)

The following post by Emily Marlow is part of an ongoing 'Gothic Bible Blog Series' and part of the Gothic Bible project, a collaborative project run by Sheffield Gothic and SIIBS at the University of Sheffield, and also the University of Auckland. You can find out more about the project here, and if you want to contribute to the blog series you can email us at Gothic or tweet us at @GothicBible. 

The Witcher was released in 2015 as the final instalment of a trilogy of games based around the character of Geralt of Rivia, also known as The White Wolf, also known as The Butcher of Blavikin.  Geralt is, like the title suggests, a Witcher. He has been trained since childhood to be a monster hunter for hire. Witchers operate by travelling the country, inquiring in villages as to whether there are bounties out for supernatural beasts (or people) whom the village requires help with, and by fulfilling the terms of the bounties for exchange of money, goods or shelter.

Unfortunately for Geralt, he is now one of the last of this breed of people as Witchers are no longer taught, and seemingly, no longer required. It turns out that the Witchers have been almost too efficient, and nearly all the monsters in the world are extinct. Geralt is old (over 100), chemically altered and almost supernatural himself – he has also SEEN THINGS – dealing with the many and varied types of supernatural beings is actually his day job. As such he has little to no problem with believing in the “unknown” forces of the world. Spirits, witches, warlocks, local gods, zombies, demons, werewolves, curses, harpies and griffons. Geralt has faced them all.

The Witcher plays out in what is called an “Open World” game. Open-world games are exactly what it says on the tin, games which take place in an “open”, virtual world. Unlike other games which may take place closed locations that have to be accessed through loading screens, separating the worlds into “Levels” or “Areas” – Open-world games are landscapes that the player can traverse from end to end freely. Open-world games are often the basis for RPG (Role Playing Game) genre stories, such as those found in DragonAge: Inquisition, or Skyrim. RPGS are described by Frans Mayra as a ‘hybrid form of leisure that combines features from strategy games and interactive storytelling.’ [i] Open-world games can often be set in Medieval style fantasy settings, yet there are also non-medieval game settings, with titles like the Fallout franchise, Grand Theft Auto, and even Minecraft.

Open-world games allow for a high level of player immersion within the game’s story. Immersion, the level to which the player believes in the authenticity of a game world, is highly sought after within video game design and play. High immersion requires a much more detailed player experience, so the more nuanced a video game experience is, the more believable it is, the more believable, the greater the opportunity for ‘full’ immersion.  Immersion also allows for a deeper level of empathy with the player character or avatar, as explained by Katherine Ibister in How Games Move Us:

…over the course of gameplay, players extend themselves further into the motivations and the visceral, cognitive, social and fantasy possibilities of the avatar, forging an identification grounded in observation as well as action and experience. [ii]

As Witcher 3 is an Open-world game, there is not just one haunted house, but entire haunted villages. There are multiple swamps, complete with ghouls and other monsters, and there is not one singular vampire, but communities of them. By creating this open environment that encourages full player immersion, the game works to free the player from reality and puts them into a position of full control. Unlike the loss of power or control suffered by many a gothic hero or heroine on entering the gothic space of the narrative, The Witcher gives players agency and a hero who is almost invincible to embody.

So, how does the Gothic Village come into this, and what exactly is it?

The Gothic Village is a proposed umbrella term that would include similar location based Gothic tropes, such as those of Ubervald – the Translyvanian countryside castle of Dracula and his kin, or ‘The Town With a Dark Secret’ – a place that author Stephen King refers to as ‘The Perculiar Little Town’. These locations often feature a small town, community or village where something is definitely wrong and no one wants to talk about it. King uses this in multiple books but the most famous is probably the fictional town of Derry, where Pennywise the clown lives. It’s also seen in King’s Salem’s Lot, or in Lovecraft’s Innsmouth.

The Gothic Village, as seen in The Witcher, has much in common with the genre of the Southern Gothic, or with Lovecraft Country. It exists as a medieval wasteland complete with every Gothic creature under the sun. In the Gothic Village there are the swamps of the Southern Gothic, the rotting corpses hanging from trees or wasting away in deserted battlefields, long abandoned. There are the supernatural nightscapes of Lovecraft country, the skin changing otherworldly beings beyond comprehension.  However, unlike Lovecraft Country, the evil and the corrupt are not actually the supernatural beings but instead their human antagonists.

Another repeated feature of these Gothic Villages is the often completely complicit, tight-knit community who are aware of their constantly dwindling numbers and who are participants in the osterisation of those they consider to be ‘Other.’ In The Witcher the complicity is evident but instead one of the most prominent features of this particular Gothic Village is the way in which this supernatural, unreal world appears to be very much ‘real,’ even mundane.

Villagers will tell you (as Geralt) of how they fell in love with the village werewolf, how they are upset by the lack of communication with a local God, how they are worried about the girl from the nearby village who has become a ghost – not because she scares them but because she is polluting the already low water supply – she’s haunting a well.

In the world of The Witcher, supernatural beings are commonplace, so much so that no-one seems to bat an eyelid at the Witches who live in a nearby swamp and take offerings from the community in the form of ears, and more problematically, children.

Instead of the inescapable dark closed locations of many pieces of Gothic literature, The Witcher’s gothic world, albeit described to the player as a desolate place, is actually quite picturesque, separating it from the stereotypical sinister and dark places of gothic horror.

Instead of being concerned about whether or not giving your children to the Crones is a good or bad idea, residents seem so down on their luck that they are more concerned with how the harvest will pan out. For the inhabitants of Velen there is never the question of ‘do you in believe this?’ because they have seen everything with their own eyes. They have paid for good harvests with their own ears.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this post tomorrow.

Emily Marlow is a PhD researcher within SIIBS at the University of Sheffield, exploring religion and sexuality video games. She is currently researching Dragon Age romances, and is particularly fond of romances that involve the Iron Bull. Part of the Gothic Bible project, she is also the brains behind Gaming the Gothic which you can follow on twitter at @GamingTheGothic. 

[i] Frans Mayra, Introduction to Game Studies, p.78
[ii] Ibister, How Games Move Us, p. 13