Convergent evolution is a term that’s used for when two unrelated species, separated by some gulf, develop a smilier trait independently. I began studying monsters in biblical reception history before I really knew others were doing so. After I’d written Holy Horror I discovered an article by another scholar who was doing similar things, even looking at some of the same movies. Liz Gloyn, it turns out, was also doing something quite similar with classical monsters. Her Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture just came out a couple months ago. Having taught classical mythology for a few semesters at Montclair State University, I have retained an interest in the subject and I was delighted to find a scholar who suggested that to get at the real substance you sometimes have to look beyond the heroes to the monsters they fight. It’s the monsters who often prove more human.
Covering both cinema and television, Gloyn considers how classical monsters are represented in modern reception. She looks at their appearance in literary forms as well. Obviously not all of these reception avenues can be examined, but those she chooses are entertaining and informative. In the case of biblical studies, I long ago came to the conclusion that biblical scholars pretty much just speak to each other. The average person doesn’t read their books and the average pastor doesn’t either. Laity, for the most part, get their interpretation of the Good Book from pop culture. There’s a very good case to be made that, shy of sitting down and reading through a very big book, people would have little access to the Bible, or classics, if it weren’t for media representations.
Concurrent with my teaching classical mythology, the release of the reboot of Clash of the Titans transpired. (Gloyn covers both the original and the remake in her book.) Students were really excited, anticipating the film. It was one of the rare times (The Book of Eli was another) when I felt compelled to watch a movie as an adjunct professor, simply to share the experience with my pupils. Clash of the Titans had made an impact on me in high school but the reboot failed to take me to the same place. Still, here be monsters. Those who’d never read Hesiod, Ovid, Pseudo-Apollodorus, or Homer, may have thought they were getting the straight dope from the silver screen. That’s what reception history is all about. Gloyn’s treatment kept me riveted, and I used to teach the subject. Monsters have a way of doing that to you.