Sink your teeth into literature: English department offers vampire literature course

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By Ben Markley

Paul Restivo, adjunct assistant professor of English, had his first encounter with vampire literature at a young age when he read Christopher Pike’s series, “The Last Vampire.”  ​

“It was one of the first books that I really just kind of became infatuated with,” he said. “The story and this idea of never-ending life, of being immortal, and with me growing up Catholic, this idea of eternal life was really sort of fascinating to me.”

He had no way of knowing, however, that decades into the future he would be proposing vampire literature as the focus of the English department’s Special Topics course.

“One of the ‘Twilight’ movies had just come out, and I was just really in tune to the fact that so many reluctant readers were reading ‘Twilight,'” he said. “It just made me think, if I can lure in reluctant readers and get them to talk about literature in a critical, analytical way, I think I’m doing something good.”

The class, offered exclusively fall 2012, will analyze and discuss vampires in literature and film, from Bram Stoker’s classic “Dracula” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to modern manifestations such as Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” and the show “True Blood.”

“Really what we’re doing here is defining the genre, defining the elements of vampire literature and film,” Restivo said.

Restivo said vampire literature explores a variety of themes, from romance to religion to HIV. ​

“I think that’s important, to be able to see the connection with the theme and content from very elevated sort of classical literature to the more pop culture stuff, and to see that they do connect,” he said. “You can have critical, meaningful discussions and analysis of very popular texts.”

He said that while vampire literature has been around for ages, recent authors have revitalized it by focusing on a new demographic.

“Charlaine Harris with the ‘True Blood’ series and then Stephenie Meyer with ‘Twilight’ really kind of brought [vampires] to teens,” he said. “When you bring stuff to teens and it explodes, it explodes at a societal and a cultural level.”​​​​

Despite some negative stigma surrounding the young adult “Twilight” series, Restivo said the course would cover Meyer’s books.

“How could you go 16 weeks in a course and not talk about ‘Twilight’ when it has resurrected the genre essentially?” he said. “Whether that is quality literature or brain candy or whatever, you have to talk about it, and I will.”

However students feel about “Twilight,” Restivo said it will not impact where they stand in the course.

“We will not tolerate vampire snobs,” he said. “We will embrace you, but nobody is going to condemn others for not having the obsession of vampire trivia and knowledge that others have.”​

Anna Ladd, student, said the course could be a good segue for those who don’t usually read classic novels.

“I guess you have people going in to talk about ‘Twilight’ and then reading ‘Dracula,'” she said. “That could be cool.”

Rachel Mullenbruch, student, said her main concern was the relevance of the course to a degree.

​”I’m just trying to imagine how a class like that would transfer,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem very practical.”

In the end, Restivo said the goal was to get students reading and thinking.

​”It’s like tricking the students, it really is,” he said. “It’s like hiding vegetables in a really tasty fruit smoothie, because they’re going to be doing stuff every class period that they really like, but every single day they’ll be doing stuff that they tell you they hate like analyzing and synthesizing and researching.”

Contact Ben Markley, sports editor, at bmarkle2@jccc.edu.

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