Socially Progressive Werewolves and Brown’s Gothic Fantasy

OK, early American SF/fantasy fans: I’m teaching Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly (1799) for the first time next Monday.  I am very curious how students will react to all the lycanthropic imagery in it.

The character Clithero goes into a cave, and a panther comes out.  The same guy runs away, only to be discovered a short amount of time later with “shaggy and tangled locks,” his face and bosom “half-concealed by hair.”

Will students read it as fantasy (as an audience raised on Harry Potter, et. al. might be inclined) or will they see it for the complex imagery it is?

I know the general understanding (best stated by Philip Barnard and Stephen Shapiro) is that Brown is using folk-tale werewolf imagery, but subverting it in the name of his rationalist, socially progressive ends. That is, Clithero’s not literally a werewolf, but he represents the kind of culturally marginalized, emotionally tumultuous, potentially violent figure found in werewolf folk tales.

And, if you’re a member of the old aristocracy or “elite” social circles, what he actually is–a progressively minded male capable of overturning the current order if he just controls his emotions–is far more threatening.

Then again, isn’t some of that fear of social turmoil still embedded in I Was a Teenage Werewolf,  the Teen Wolf TV show, or even the highly lycanthropic Incredible Hulk comic series??*

Maybe students raised to read fantasy as metaphor are ideally suited for Edgar Huntly?  Other profs have hinted as much to me.  Hmmm.

*In fact, Mark Waid’s current Hulk series delves into this.  Bruce Banner’s the really threatening figure because he can upset the status quo with rational science; Hulk’s just a big weapon.

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