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September 30, 2013

Horror at the Athenaeum: a high-brow Halloween series

SALEM — This Halloween season, the Salem Athenaeum wants to say that just because something is thoughtful, sophisticated, even literary, that doesn’t mean it can’t scare the bejesus out of you.

In years past, said the Athenaeum’s Jean Marie Procious, some might have seen the organization strictly as a library — conservative, quiet and above the milling ghouls, witches and mad slashers that populate this city every October. But the fact is, there’s plenty of horror within the covers of a book, she said, and sometimes those books are literary classics.

Sue Weaver Schopf, an associate dean at the Harvard Extension School, is determined to put Frankenstein’s monster, Mr. Hyde, Dr. Moreau and Dracula in your head this Halloween season. She’s going to do it in a series of lecture/discussions illustrated with film clips. The five-week series begins today, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., and will continue each Monday through Oct. 28.

It was Schopf who suggested this program to the Athenaeum as part of Haunted Happenings.

“It seemed to me there ought to be something literary,” she said.

It’s giving Halloween “an academic spin,” Procious said.

The film clips are from the hundreds of movies attempting to bring these scary characters to life, or unlife, as the case may be, Schopf said. But the films very often miss the essence of the author’s message, which has more to do with science as the source of horror. Whether it’s electricity, chemistry, surgery or the difficulty of relying on science to confront evil, the books take the measure of progress and its sometimes frightening ramifications.

“Most people have only seen the movies,” said Schopf, who finds them “pretty far removed” from the message in the books. “The books are so much more sophisticated. ... People are so surprised how much more science is in the books.”

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