‘Undead, Forever’ – Ravenloft and the Gothic in D&D

April 15, 2018 § 1 Comment

This paper was initially presented at the Gaming the Gothic conference, held at the University of Sheffield on April 13th 2018. The intial CFP is available here.

This is a transcript of the presented paper, edited with some last-minute changes made during the presentation itself and, where appropriate, links to external material.

Ravenloft - Presentation.001

So begins our journey into the Dungeons & Dragons adventure of ‘Ravenloft’ where Strahd von Zarovich, a centuries old vampire-prince, rules his terror-haunted realm without pity or remorse. ‘Ravenloft’ is riddled with deeply gothic imagery from the flying buttresses of the eponymous Castle Ravenloft to the tortured, endless nature of Strahd’s vampirism. Yet, like all gothic fiction, there is more to ‘Ravenloft’ than simple theatrics. There is a deep sense of horror that comes not just from the story but from how the story is told and, crucially, how it is not told.

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The Myth Of The Sunken City

April 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

There is something about the myth of a sunken city that seems to call out, siren-like, to our collected subconsciousness. They come in many shapes; the hubris of Atlantis, the horrors R’lyeh and the decadence of Ys. Even Tolkien subsumes the idea into his own mythic cycle of The Silmarillion when he has Beleriand flooded after the War of Wrath. We can see quite clearly the dappled columns, kelp-wrapped and silent, and the shoals of darting fish that move between them. Abyssal canyons are populated with immense spires, outlined dimly by glimmering bioluminescence and haunted by vast, lumbering shapes. Those of us who have lived by the sea will have heard tales of forlorn church bells that ring out from under the night-time sea, pulled into life by the ebbing Spring tide or turbulent storm-waters. Perhaps we have even heard the bells ourselves…

Flood

Woodcut representation of the Bristol Channel Floods of 1607.

What is it that makes this myth so forceful and we so ready to believe it? There are two strands to this answer.

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Are You Lena? – Self and individuality in Annihilation

April 4, 2018 § 1 Comment

This isn’t a review of Alex Garland’s Annihilation, based on the 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer, mainly because, to a large degree, I didn’t think it was particularly good as a film. The characters felt inconsequential and poorly portrayed, particularly Jennifer Jason Leigh’s unhinged leader Dr Ventress, as opposed to the specifically blank canvases in the original book. It also delved overly-long into needless flashbacks, long after any normal viewer had got the full point of those sojourns into the past, when the book made them part of a fluid and bewildering timeline.

I’m also, despite those two cross-media comparisons, not particularly interested in delineating the differences between book and film, something I think is often required in movie adaptations.

What I do what to talk about, however, are some of the concepts the film itself whispers about behind the scenes of the apparent narrative. Who we are and who we were. How we think of ourselves and others. What happens when those distinctions begin to break down.

Annihilation 1

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