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Sarah Iles Johnston

In real life I am a classicist specializing in ancient Greek myths and religion with a particular interest in how the ancient narration of myths created and sustained religious beliefs (The Story of Myth 2018).  My secret identity, however, is that of a scholar of the horror story, especially as it developed between about 1870 and now.  For the past few years, I’ve been indulging that secret identity with a project that looks at the variety of ways in which the consumption of horror stories has come to serve as a substitute for mainstream, institutionalized religious practices, particularly in Europe and America.  My first publication in this field is an article on the gnosticism inherent in Arthur Machen’s 1890 masterpiece ‘The Great God Pan’ and two of the stories and books it subsequently inspired (H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Dunwich Horror’ and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story).  During 2020/2021 I’m working on Stephen King, particularly his Revival (2014), which also pays tribute to Machen’s story.  Throughout my work, I look at the subtle rhetorics that these stories use to conduce us to engage in what might be called their spiritual thought experiments.
In late 2020 I completed the manuscript of a project in which I try to speak in something different from my usual scholarly voice: Gods and Mortals: Ancient Greek Myths for Modern Audiences.  My intention is to narrate ancient Greek myths in a vividly engaging way that nonetheless remains true to their ancient sources.