Panel 2: Witchhood, Monstrosity, and (Anti)Hegemonic Figures

 

Where Lovecraft, Sabrina and Archie’s Universes Collide: Analysing the Significance of the Gothic in Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Samragngi Roy (Jadavpur University)

Riverdale, an American young adult television series based on the Archie Comics, took its fans by surprise when in one of its episodes–“Tales from the Darkside”–it featured a supposed drug crate with H.P Lovecraft’s name and address on it–“Miskatonic University, via H.P. Lovecraft. Polar Expedition Jan. 13, 1923.” Apart from the obvious references to two of Lovecraft’s most popular gothic tales, namely “Herbert West-Reanimator” and “At the Mountains of Madness,” the excitement sparked off by these enigmatic easter eggs was taken one step forward in a subsequent episode titled “The Blackboard Jungle” where one of the characters named Tony reads the draft of a story written by Jughead Jones and remarks that the text was very “Lovecraftian.” These are blatant references that have triggered endless speculation among the fans, one of them being that Archie and Lovecraft belong in the same universe. On a very similar vein, in a sister show called Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, featuring only on Netflix, written by the same writer and showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the influence of the Gothic is so prominent that the entire Part 4 of the series which was also the season finale, revolves around the Eldritch Terrors, the brainchild of the eminent gothic writer, H.P Lovecraft. The show also featured a character who went by the name “Brother Lovecraft,” the one who invited the Eldritch Terrors in the first place in order to wreak havoc on the gloomy town of Greendale, which is quite interestingly situated right next to Riverdale. The aim of this paper, however, is to analyse these two shows in the light of the Lovecraftian concept of “cosmicism” or “cosmic horror,” specifically focusing on how these two otherwise independent and standalone shows fuse into each other and almost become inseparable when we view it from a Gothic lens. Both of these shows not only celebrate coming-of-age experiences but also use gothic elements and tropes as a means to represent the complex passages between different stages of life and conflicts both internal and external to the characters’ everyday existence as young adults. This shall be explored through themes like misanthropy, questionable parentage, alienation and detachment, growing awareness of one’s sexuality, mental health, the vulnerability of sanity, the existence of the supernatural, so on and so forth- all of which are not only characteristic of the works of H.P Lovecraft and by extension features of the Gothic genre, but also major themes of the two famous young adult television dramas namely Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

 

The American Nightmare: Examining the Monstrosity of a Neoliberal Society on American Youth in Victoria Schwab’s Monsters of Verity Duology
Kristy Strange (independent scholar)

This study examines the effects of a neoliberal, urban Gothic society on the post-millennial generation in Victoria Schwab’s Young Adult duology Monsters of Verity – comprised of the novels This Savage Song (2016) and Our Dark Duet (2017). Schwab uses a dystopian lens to show the extreme conditions that American youth are forced to endure in order to establish a sense of identity and belonging. The young characters in this duology are riddled with twenty-first century anxieties concerning violence and the “monstrous” consequences of neoliberalism. Monstrosity is no longer “out there” but within the very heart of the nation and seemingly inescapable because violent acts breed literal monsters. Ultimately, it is the younger generation that lies in the wake of this destructive society. Schwab questions the definitions of monstrosity and humanity, allowing one to bleed into the other. She reveals that the ultimate cost of a neoliberal society is a generation shaped by panic, violence, and fear. In particular, I explore the origin/creation story of one of the series’ main characters – a monster birthed from the most violent of acts – alongside Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject and how this speaks to the United States’ horrific, ongoing history of school shootings. This is further examined in the subsequent anger felt by American youth, which plays an important role throughout the duology and mirrors the real-life anger of a generation forced to March For Our Lives; this is a generation that not only feels fearful but threatened by the system they are trapped within. In this paper, I argue that Schwab highlights these modern horrors of American society through a reimagining of a collapsed United States forced to face the very real consequences of neoliberalism. Violence is no longer about revenge on an individual, but on the whole of society. Monsters of Verity is a duology that questions whether we can ever truly escape the violence of our past and change the future, or if we are forever bound by systems of modernity that place profit over humanity.

 

Raising Hell: Female Gothic, Maternal Figures and Archetypal Depictions of the Witch in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Chloe Campbell (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018-2020) has received emerging critical interest since 2020, with scholars like Megan Henesy evaluating activism and feminist liminality in the series, and Sean Tiffee and Janie Filoteo considering narrative structure and nostalgia in the show. Scholarship has not yet focused on the dominant depictions of witches in the series, and little consideration has been given to how this supernatural coming-of-age narrative specifically relates to the Gothic genre. As the figure of the witch remains a dominant embodiment of feminine—and often feminist—power in contemporary pop-culture texts, this presentation evaluates how Sabrina’s narrative arc is informed by Female Gothic and how her supernatural power and witchhood is shaped by the senior witch figures. This reading, by closely examining Sabrina’s maternal figures, engages with scholarship on representations of the witch figure in popular culture. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina situates the teenage witch Sabrina Spellman in an aesthetically and narratively gothic television series, as a half-mortal-half-witch raised by her two aunts. In this regard, Sabrina corresponds with other late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century narratives that feature witches with absent or deceased mothers, exemplified in The Craft (1996), Practical Magic (1998), and Charmed (1998-2006). Claire Kahane recognises maternal absence as a defining feature of the Female Gothic and this presentation proposes how Chilling Adventures of Sabrina can be read as a contemporary Female Gothic text for a YA audience. Sabrina’s three dominant maternal figures correspond to hegemonic, archetypal depictions of witches; Aunt Zelda embodies the Satanic witch, Aunt Hilda’s character draws from Pagan notions of witchcraft, and mentor Madam Satan is a demonic witch, in the apocryphal tradition of Lilith. The absence of Sabrina’s mother and the presence of the witches provides Sabrina with heterogenous yet competing notions of identity, power, and femininity. These characters contribute to Sabrina’s journey towards individuation, witchhood and womanhood. This presentation seeks to contextualise Chilling Adventures of Sabrina as a gothic coming-of-age story that draws from both the Female Gothic and the cinematic history of the witch, to consider how adolescent protagonist Sabrina embodies a composite, progressive power for a new generation.