Next Meeting: Monday 7th April

We’re only a week away from our next meeting (Monday 7th April) which will, as ever, take place from 6.30 – 8 pm  in room S2.39 at King’s College London.

This meeting will feature two papers which question the role and place of beasts, those undergoing metamorphosis, supernatural beings, and possibly even superhumans (!). Herewith the abstracts for the two papers:

Joanna Coleman (PhD student, University of Chichester) – ‘Becoming Beast: Metamorphosis in Contemporary Young Adult Narrative’

In the realm of the fairy tale, transformation is a constant. The human body is an unstable site,  feathered, furred or scaled in accordance with word or spell. Contemporary ecocritical perspectives, such as Timothy Morton’s vision of an open-ended, infinite ecosystem with no clear boundary between species or organisms, or even between the within and the without, may seem closer to the fairy tale realm than the law-abiding mind/matter universe of which we have been assured for the past few centuries. It is no surprise, then, that today’s fairy tale writers make extensive use of the shapeshifting theme to respond to and explore this shifting world. Fairy tales themselves are a metamorphotic species, shifting with the beliefs of every teller. Modern young adult fiction uses the fairy tale to explore the possibilities of a posthuman paradigm in which the permeable nature of human identity is not a fantastic nightmare but a secret and/or sacred truth. The transformed partner is loved for his/her beastly nature, and the cursed metamorph becomes leader and healer. Boundaries are broken between animate/ non-animate, real / imagined, wild / wise, and the animal companion is placed within the human soul. Contemporary authors Philip Pullman, Ursula Le Guin, Cornelia Funke, Tamora Pierce and others have written the shape-shifting tale into a new quest, no longer a journey to return a human to an animal-invaded body, it becomes a quest to reach and relish the non/human on the borders of the tale and the self. A discussion of metamorphosis in the work of these authors, this paper will present the findings of my ongoing research on the topic of animal transformation in contemporary narrative.

Dr James Lloyd  ‘Weland the Smith: Man or Superman?

The legend of Weland the smith was one of the best-known in the Germanic milieu, with allusions to it or narrations of it surviving in Old English, Norse and German sources. The plots of these versions all differ from one another but share the common synopsis of a smith, called Velent, Weland or Völundr, who is taken into the service of a king who abuses and mistreats him. He takes a gruesome revenge by killing the king’s sons and turning their skulls into goblets that he presents to the king as a gift. He also impregnates the king’s daughter, before flying away from the palace. Weland is hard to categorize as either a mortal or supernatural figure, for in all versions of the story he seems to show attributes of both. Smithing was regarded as a semi-magical activity in the Iron-Age society in which the legend developed and Weland himself, who in some versions is said to be descended from supernatural beings, can transform even human flesh into ornaments. On the other hand, he is hamstrung by the wicked king in order to prevent his escape and this is initially successful, suggesting that he suffered some human limitations. In the Norse version, he assumes the power of flight by apparently magical means but in the English and German he constructs false wings, like a primitive aeronautical engineer. I am of the opinion that Weland began as a purely supernatural figure, who evolved into a mortal through centuries of re-telling. I propose to examine and compare the English, Norse and German traditions of Weland in order to establish the course of his transition from superhuman to human.

We hope to see you all there!


About beingnonhuman

Being Non/Human is an interdisciplinary discussion group aimed at postgraduates and early career researchers. The group was set up and is run by Sophia Wilson and Lydia Zeldenrust. Our group is funded by the English departments of King’s College London and Queen Mary, University of London. View all posts by beingnonhuman

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