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Reading: 'His Madness Held No Affinity': Reimagining Arkham Asylum


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'His Madness Held No Affinity': Reimagining Arkham Asylum


Benjamin Noad


The Gothic madhouse present in H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction is not a dimly lit padded cell situated in a former manor house. Rather, Lovecraft gives little description to his mental hospitals, which is curious given the many narrators who end up in such institutions. Twenty-first century popular culture, on the other hand, enjoys a fascination with the madhouse as a physical space associated with criminality, monstrosity, and themes of imprisonment. Though the figures encountered within Batman’s Arkham may be inspired by the horror of Lovecraft’s Weird tales, it is striking that the solitary name of a fictional landscape proves so enduring beyond, and in addition to, the mythos of its original author. As a means of exposing the negative portrayals of mental illness inherent within twenty-first century reimagining’s of Arkham Asylum, namely its portrayal throughout the Batman media franchise, this article compares the depiction of asylums in two fictions by Lovecraft: “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919), and “The Thing on the Doorstep” (1933) alongside Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (1989), and Dan Slott’s serial Arkham Asylum: Living Hell (2004). I argue that a wilful misremembering of historical madhouse regimes occurs within modern and contemporary appropriations of Lovecraft’s asylum setting. Unlike the Batman comics, Lovecraft’s tales show the sinister and hidden machinations of the asylum without depicting it as a violent, haunted, or necessarily horrific space.

How to Cite: Noad, B., 2021. 'His Madness Held No Affinity': Reimagining Arkham Asylum. Studies in Gothic Fiction, 7, pp.41–50.
Published on 15 Nov 2021.
Peer Reviewed


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