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Monsters and their meanings

Monsters have meanings, too

Students scare up monsters’ significance in literature, film and popular culture

Contact: Heather Smith

​To some Central Michigan University students, there's more to monsters than horror movies and things that go bump in the night.

Monsters and Their Meanings, a class taught by English professor Jeffrey Weinstock, looks into monsters and their significance in literature, film and popular culture.

Yes, even vampires, werewolves and Jason from the "Friday the 13th" movies have cultural and historical connections.

This is the third time Weinstock has taught Monsters and Their Meanings as a first-year honors course. CMU also offers it as a non-honors undergraduate course. The class is even more meaningful as the students direct the topics and lead discussions.

“You start asking questions about the monsters and what they mean. When you look at it from that perspective, you begin to understand more behind their significance.” — Nicholas Hirsch, Jackson, Michigan, freshman

The students developed a list of topic areas and then picked the five they most wanted to learn about. They divided into teaching teams and addressed topics such as religion and its monsters, fairy tale monsters, and monstrous women.

"This class teaches you to look at what the culture values are surrounding monsters," said freshman Kelli Chapman, of Chino Hills, California. "The class is really writing-intensive, but it's not overwhelming because the topic is so interesting."

Black beans beat the boos

Chapman and her team looked at monsters of the classical world. These included mummies, ghosts and spirits.

With the room completely dark and a flashlight strategically positioned under his chin, freshman Nicholas Hirsch opened the final class of their section with a ghost story, told as if through an ancient letter written by a man in Athens.

Others in Hirsch's group threw little bags of black beans to the center of the classroom as he concluded the tale of a haunting spirit that was bound in chains.

These black bean bags were how the Romans warded off spirits.

"You start asking questions about the monsters and what they mean," said Hirsch, of Jackson, Michigan. "When you look at it from that perspective, you begin to understand more behind their significance."

Weinstock set the tone for the class by teaching a section about vampires, giving his students a great model to follow for teaching their own group sections.

 Weinstock is an expert on a number of topics including vampires, gothic culture and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." He will present a free public lecture, "Vampire Suicide," at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 30, in the Park Library auditorium.

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