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A Critical Inquiry of Horror Fiction with Professor Thomas Phillips

Professor Thomas Phillips of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences discusses his honors seminar, The Power of Horror: Horror Fiction and Film.

Aerial view of the Honors and Scholars Village, also known as the Quad

By Maren Carter

Thomas Phillips, a professor of literature in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at NC State, teaches about the power and influence the horror genre has on our lives and the media we consume through critical analysis. In his honors seminar, The Power of Horror: Horror Fiction and Film, he hopes to “cultivate an appreciation for … what [horror] has to offer in terms of substance and depth.”

In his course, students “examine the genre through a variety of literary and cinematic texts with the aim of gaining insight into the central question of why we are drawn to horror as entertainment and cultural practice.” He hopes students walk away from the seminar having gained an appreciation for “the entertainment and the critical value of horror.” Students are encouraged to focus on critical horror, which Phillips defines as “a theoretical approach to the genre grounded in the premise that what horror has to teach us personally and culturally is very useful.”

Studying literature at NC State, the University of Helsinki and Concordia University in Montreal, Phillips has published several horror novels and short story collections, saying he’s had an interest in horror fiction and film since childhood. In his work, Phillips says he “likes to strike a balance between conventional material and relatively marginal texts that challenge conventions [in language or film] in remarkably productive [ways].” 

Phillips favors seminar-style teaching for the intellectual engagement with students and says that students’ “enthusiasm for learning, openness and scholarly passion … has everything to do with why [he] enjoy[s] teaching in the context of the University Honors and Scholars Program and in general.”

When asked what he enjoys most about horror, Phillips remarked on the unique ability of the genre to “[open] up exciting possibilities [by] both adhering to and transcending genre tropes.”

“I find [horror] quite meaningful,” he said. “[It] insists that we embrace some degree of discomfort, without which, it seems to tell us, we risk some version of arrested development. Despite its many trappings as a consumerist product, it grows out of the many conditions of being human and reminds us to live fully and deliberately.”

Expounding on the topic, Phillips expressed that horror “is so much richer than the sense of entertainment it provides [and] that a significant component of its pleasure may actually come from the degree to which it invites self-reflection on all kinds of fascinating topics.”

Students in the University Honors and Scholars Program can enroll in Phillips’ honors seminar, HON 202: The Power of Horror, for the upcoming fall semester.