The Wonders of the Thesis | Literature Review

The aim of my thesis is to create a queer critical perspective of Old Norse and Old English literature. While there have been queer approaches to both of these areas in the past, many have stayed within the frame of the homosexual/heterosexual and male/female binaries; my approach strives to dismantle and problematise both of these constraints on the queer critical approach to medieval literature. The general starting points I plan to begin with are translation, monster theory (including notions of the Other and liminality), feminist literary criticism, contemporary queer theory, and even some aspects of Postmodernism.

I will begin by grounding myself in current queer critical approaches and theories, such as Glenn Burger and Steven Kruger’s collection of essays Queering the Middle Ages or Richard E. Zeikowitz’s “Befriending the Medieval Queer: A Pedagogy for Literature Classes”. I want to use these various perspectives to create my own working definition of what it means to be queer, and more specifically what it means to be queer in a medieval text. I will seek to expand this definition to go beyond the boundaries of a binary sexuality and gender system, and thus see how our perspective on certain episodes or characters in medieval texts change accordingly, if at all. This definition will of course largely be impacted by my knowledge of monster theory and feminist criticism; the most significant complementary piece being Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Her theories on the binary, and discussions on displacement and performativity will be essential when attempting to include transgender (binary and otherwise) identities into the mainstream queer approach.

One of the most important sources for my research is J.J. Cohen’s chapter “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” published in The Monster Theory Reader. Cohen describes a “set of breakable postulates in search of specific cultural moments” in this chapter (38). He notes the way monsters emerge from individual and collective anxieties, and can be used in a political way – such as the way in which the Nazis made ‘monsters’ of Jewish people in order to further their political agenda.  His discussion on the body of the monster in particular links directly to questions about transgender and/or intersex bodies. I want to use Cohen’s seven theses to examine the way in which queer and trans people have been made into the monstrous Other. Cohen asserts that monsters act as warnings and encourage people to act within the status quo; but for those who know they have been cast in the role of monster, it is the status quo/the place in which ‘heroes’ dwell that poses danger. I will use Cohen’s theses to uncover the perspective of the monster, that is, the queer or trans community. In a similar vein, I will be dismantling and problematising pieces such as Acker’s “Horror and the Maternal in ‘Beowulf’” to demonstrate the inadequacies of labelling characteristics and behaviours as masculine or feminine. Some Postmodernist critical technique comes into play here, namely distrust of metanarratives, as outlined in Linda Hutcheon’s The Politics of Postmodernism. Pieces like Acker’s begin to unravel at the seams once the delicate structures of the metanarrative in which it operates (the metanarrative being, in this case, a binary gender system) are torn down. Hutcheon’s work on Postmodernism and metanarratives will be an important tool in dismantling these binary structures. 

In terms of the Old Norse primary texts, I will be using Carolyne Larrington’s translation of The Poetic Edda. This translation is one with which I am intimately familiar from my undergrad, and Larrington’s other critical work on Old Norse literature both complements my research and signifies to me the perspective she had while translating the Edda. She employs the feminist literary critical approach of “reading against the grain”, which I believe also proves useful when examining texts from a queer perspective. Having looked closely at her word choice in some instances already, one can see gender being problematised in a way other translations may have obscured or made more palatable for a binary, cisgender audience. Thus Larrington’s translation will be vital for my research. In addition, I will be using Dr. Tom Birkett’s prose retelling of the Norse myths as an example of modern, prose adaptation of the texts. In a sort of contrast, I will be using both Fulk’s edition of the Beowulf manuscript, as well as Seamus Heaney’s translation of the poem Beowulf. As with every translation, our interpretation of a text is tinged by the translator’s own experiences and biases; I am using multiple translations in an attempt for some kind of balance, as well as the opportunity for comparisons. Heaney’s word choices when translating sections on Grendel’s Mother, for example, have been criticised for having unnecessarily negative connotations.

Feminist literary critical techniques can also be used for a queer critical perspective; as I mentioned before, Carolyne Larrington uses the “reading against the grain” technique in her essay “What Does Woman Want?: Mær und munr in Skirnismal”. I wish to use her example and listen to the gaps and silences left by heteronormative and ciscentric perspectives which have dominated traditional academia. In a similar fashion, I want to examine other examples of feminist criticism in the Old English and Old Norse fields, including Mary Dockray-Miller’s “The Masculine Queen of Beowulf” and “Female Community in the Old English Judith” and Clare A. Lees’s “At a crossroads: Old English and feminist criticism”. These are critics I admire very much, but I believe feminist approaches can inadvertently become (ironically) andro-centric, and, in the case of Lees’s piece, intersectionality can be forgotten or fall to the wayside. I want to build on the arguments and observations made by these feminist critics, perhaps even problematise them, to reveal a more intersectional, dialectic, and possibly complicated view of gender in medieval texts and the world beyond.

By using these texts together for my thesis, I hope to rearrange them like stars into a new constellation, and change today’s queer critical perspective of medieval literature.


Acker, Paul. “Horror and the Maternal in ‘Beowulf.’” PMLA, vol. 121, no. 3, 2006, pp. 702–716. 

Birkett, Tom. The Norse Myths. Quercus, 2018.

Burger, Glenn, and Steven F. Kruger, editors. Queering the Middle Ages. NED – New edition ed., vol. 27, University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2006. 

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “MONSTER CULTURE (SEVEN THESES).” The Monster Theory Reader, edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis; London, 2020, pp. 37–56. 

Dockray-Miller, Mary. “The Masculine Queen of Beowulf.” Women and Language, vol. 21, no. 2, 1998, pp. 31.

—.  “Female Community in the Old English Judith.” Studia Neophilologica, vol. 70, no. 2, 1998, pp. 165-172.

Fulk, R.D., translator. The Beowulf Manuscript. Harvard University Press, 2010.

Heaney, Seamus, translator. Beowulf: A New Translation. Faber & Faber, 2000.

Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Postmodernism. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2002.

Larrington, Carolyne, translator. The Poetic Edda. Oxford University Press, 2014.

—. “What Does Woman Want? Maer und munr in Skirnismal.” Alvissmal, vol. 1, 1992, pp. 3-16.

Self, Kathleen M. “The Valkyrie’s Gender: Old Norse Shield-Maidens and Valkyries as a Third Gender.” Feminist Formations, vol. 26, no. 1, 2014, pp. 143–172. 

Zeikowitz, Richard E. “Befriending the Medieval Queer: A Pedagogy for Literature Classes.” College English, vol. 65, no. 1, Special Issue: Lesbian and Gay Studies/Queer Pedagogies, pp. 67-80.

Note: Featured Image: Hild, Thrud and Hløkk | 1895 | Lorenz Frølich | Taken from Wikipedia |Public Domain

Speak to me, and become a voice | Guest Lecture Series

At the beginning of this month, we had the wonderful Dr. Amelia Worsley of Amherst College visit and give a guest lecture on the writer and poet Charlotte Smith. MA students are encouraged to attend as many of these guest lectures as is feasible, even if they don’t deal with writers or topics that are specific to your degree; it’s refreshing, really, when you’ve been stuck somewhere in the middle of a forest with Thomas of Erceldoune for much longer than you had originally anticipated (how the Queen of Faeries stuck him, I’ll never understand).

I had never heard of Charlotte Smith prior to this lecture. I adore poetry, but most of my time tends to be dedicated to Old English alliterative verse rather than anything else, so I had no idea what to expect. 

I immediately fell in love. 

Worsley focussed on Smith’s ‘solitaries’ (like the hermit at the end of her most famous piece, Beachy Head) and the poet’s fascination with echoes and shells. Worsley’s analysis of Smith’s poetic techniques was fascinating; she illustrated an incredible image of Smith stitching together citations, allusions, recycled phrases, to create a vessel through which the poet could then ventriloquise. 

“I wove your bluebells into garlands wild, And woke your echoes with my artless song.”

Echoes, for Smith, are exclusively plural, and meet in a kind of conversation; allusions (or echoes) are illusory in a way, because they mimic dialogue. There is no hierarchy to the echoes – it’s not about mapping who is echoing whom – which led Worsley to suggest that Smith’s echoes are distinct from masculine allusion, which can be fixated on genealogy. Instead Smith embeds quotes but pointedly does not attempt to slot herself into a masculine structure. She was likely sick of masculine structures leaving her bankrupt. Poor gal.

(Sidenote: She has a sort of Postmodernist feel to me, even though she is classified as a Romantic…the fragmentation, the intertextuality, even the way she seems to toy with the idea of collective consciousness. Would love to hear if anyone else thinks so!) 

Debbie Tung | Find her work here

While Smith was solitary, and wrote extensively on Solitaries and Echoes, I do not think she was a ‘lonely’ poet as such. Who has not felt comfort in the embrace of a book? Who has not seen a friend in a writer that grasps your feelings? These friends, while maybe experienced as echoes, are not imaginary. Writing these echoes was the way Smith could fold the fabric of time and space to bring these friends together. It is the way I will fold that fabric in a similar way to bring Smith and I together, our echoes chattering across two centuries. 

I found it difficult to get a copy of Smith’s work, but the Book Depository has a rather inexpensive collection, find it here. (Not sponsored, unfortunately. Just enthusiastic.)

Note: Featured image is by George Romney. Taken from Wikipedia.

MAP OF THE SOUL: Conclusion (5/5)


“[I]f I am no good now, I shall be no good later on either, but if later on, then now too. For corn is corn, though people from the city may take it for grass at first”.

(“Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh”)

If, fifty years from now, BTS are looked back upon as artists that were worth something, then they are worth investigating today. It is easy to dismiss what is deemed popular as surface, depthless, meaningless. However, our exploration during these last few chapters has given us evidence to the contrary; it has become difficult to deny the significance of the work that Bangtan are doing. We have seen them challenge notions of originality and superiority; bring awareness to the mental health crisis in today’s youth, particularly in South Korea; subvert harmful metanarratives and encourage difference and individuality; bridge cultural borders and transcend language through music; dismantle notions of superiority with regard to the Western canon, and even blur the lines between high and popular or mass culture.

Having worked with BTS on their latest album, Halsey explains that “[b]ehind those three letters are seven astounding young men who believe that music is stronger than the barriers of language. It’s a universal dialect” (Monteros, Newsweek). This is echoed in Gifford Phillips’s writing, which argues that “[i]f real art is indeed trans-cultural, it is because of the unique ‘language’ in which art communicates – a language of expressive forms” (175). If we take this to be true, then BTS’s work is certainly what Phillips calls “real” art, as is Hesse’s and Le Guin’s. Does that move BTS from the realm of pop culture to high art, however?

In his essay “Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”, Fredric Jameson discusses that there are currently “notions of the waning or extinction of the hundred-year-old modern movement (or to its ideological or aesthetic repudiation)” (59). He also brings attention to the “prophetic elitism and authoritarianism of the modern movement” when it comes to high art (59). Most notably, however, Jameson explains that there is one “fundamental feature” which appears again and again in the Postmodernisms he discusses;

[N]amely, the effacement in them of the older (essentially high-modernist) frontier between high culture and so-called mass or commercial culture and the emergence of new kinds of texts infused with the forms, categories, and contents of that very culture industry so passionately denounced by all the ideologies of the modern. (59-60)

BTS’s use of an arguably Postmodernist form, the music video, and their adaptations of Hesse’s and Le Guin’s works, most definitely fit Jameson’s description above. They challenge the superiority of the Western canon and notion of high art at all with their music, music videos, and even by virtue of the fact that they are South Korean. Bangtan bridge a cultural gap with cross-cultural adaptations, and establish a sense of universality between the East and West. Their work rejects the clear-cut polarised binaries such as that of East/West, white/non-white, or high culture/mass culture.

Herbert J. Gans believes that “[a]s long as high culture is the culture of an elite – and of ‘cultural experts’ – the rest of the population will go along with their standards”, but as Phillips argues, this view entirely “excludes the possibility of transcendent art” (175). Thus, as BTS have proven, popular culture can and does produce so-called ‘real’ art as well as transcendent art, and makes high culture works (like Demian or “Omelas”) accessible to a larger population. One of their more recent albums, “Love Yourself: Tear” used a book entitled Into The Magic Shop by Dr James R. Doty as inspiration; it didn’t take long after the album’s release for the book to become a bestseller in South Korea (Dahir). In an interview with Buzzfeed, Dr Doty explains that BTS’s popularity has:

[…] not only resulted in my book becoming a best-seller in Korea, but has resulted in a dramatic increase in exposure of the book to many others around the world – boosting sales and promoting the message of the power of having an open heart and of love, which I appreciate and which is needed more than ever. (Dahir)

Therefore, BTS’s influence and popularity, their very status as pop culture, has in fact enabled them to spread ‘high literature’ to thousands, if not millions, of more readers. Furthermore, though some members of BTS’s audience may not get any sort of gratification, or experience any emotional resonation, with the source texts, their experience with BTS’s adaptation still brings that aforementioned ‘spirit’ to large swathes of people. One still sees the bildungsroman nature of Demian in the “WINGS” short films; and one still feels the bittersweetness of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” when watching the “Spring Day” music video. Should these be considered any less valuable, simply because they are experienced via cross-cultural, popular adaptations?

Ernest van den Haag asserts that true, high culture classics “cannot be irrelevant, for they deal with subjects relevant to the universal human predicament in ways to be experienced perenially” (228-229). By this definition, BTS’s work, their adaptations, their message, are classic. Human beings will always experience the process of growing up and discovering themselves; they will always question, wonder, love, and extend a hand of friendship, or at the very least allyship. Human beings will always tell stories, and retell them with their own unique contribution. They will always make music. These are undeniably universal human experiences. It is true that BTS’s adaptations are tailored towards a twenty-first century, young audience; however, it is difficult to imagine that Hesse wrote Demian with this same audience in mind, and yet, because of Bangtan, it is precisely this audience that is reading the novel today.

In the same essay, van den Haag goes on to group mass culture with “diversion from boredom” and “time killing” (229). In his view, no “serious writer” would set out to produce a work with the sole intention of making an audience happy (230). Again, however, I would like to bring your attention back to the quote which introduced this dissertation:

The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. (Le Guin, 256-257)

It seems almost dangerous to dismiss happiness in this way, especially when we consider the alternative. Would BTS’s work be ‘better’, then, if they encouraged their audience to wallow in their sadness? If instead of combating the mental health crisis in twenty-first-century youth, they promoted it? 

The final challenge that BTS pose us is this: to view happiness as a complex idea that is worthy of its position as an artist’s muse, and also of exploration, investigation, and experimentation. If we were to shift our perspective and look at happiness as something other than surface and frivolous, what could we stand to gain? In a time where walls – both physical and figurative – are being built between people, the hand of universality and happiness that BTS are extending seems crucial. Rather than walls, Bangtan Sonyeondan build bridges, through their music, their videos, their art.

Note: this post’s feature image is taken from Unicef’s official website, where you can find out more information about the “Love Myself” campaign.

MAP OF THE SOUL: Chapter Three: Postmodernism (4/5)


“Postmodernism is, claims one American critic, like the air we breathe, everywhere.”

(Mundy, 260)

Postmodernism appears to play a significant role not only in the content of BTS’s works, but in its form also. In addition to examining BTS from a Postmodernist perspective, this chapter will examine BTS’s music videos as potential works of metafiction, and explore whether or not they challenge any metanarratives; if so, then the reasons why BTS adapted Hesse and Le Guin may need to be studied further. Before we begin, we must once again establish the definitions that will be used for the remainder of the discussion. Firstly, what do we mean by ‘Postmodernism’? It is both an extensive and elusive term, though critics such as Linda Hutcheon assert that postmodern texts are inherently political. Their political nature will become more apparent as we progress. Lyotard writes that when “[s]implifying to the extreme, [he defines] postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives” (The Postmodern Condition, xxiv). Metanarratives are those which attempt to envelop and explain the world and universe using one universal grand ‘truth’. An obvious example of a metanarrative would be Christianity, or Marxism. Terry Eagleton aptly explains:

Postmodernity means the end of modernity, in the sense of those grand narratives of truth, reason, science, progress and universal emancipation which are taken to characterise modern thought from the Enlightenment onwards. (200)

The metanarratives that were widely accepted for the last two centuries no longer serve as satisfactory “interpretive frameworks” we can use to make sense of the world around us (Mundy, 260). Postmodernism’s inherent political nature comes from the challenges it poses to these grand narratives. We are forced to question not only the text we are presented with, but the world we ourselves occupy outside of the text. Constructs that we take for granted as ‘natural’, are, in fact, just that: constructs. According to Hutcheon, the postmodern’s initial concern is “to point out that those entities that we unthinkingly experience as ‘natural’ […] are in fact ‘cultural’; made by us, not given to us” (The Politics of Postmodernism, 2). It is because of these very cultural constructs that “no narrative can be a natural ‘master’ narrative: there are no natural hierarchies, there are only those we construct” (emphasis in original, 13).

Finally, we must determine what we mean by ‘metafiction’. Metafiction is a term used to describe fictional writing “which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality”, and allows us to explore “the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text” (Waugh, 2). If we are to take John Mundy’s definition of the music video as a form which has a “knowing, self-reflexive direct address to spectators who are deemed to be always there”, then the music video would fall under the category of ‘metafiction’ (259-260). Furthermore, Mundy asserts that with music video “the old distinction between fiction and reality simply dissolves” (260). Fiction and reality in these instances bleed into one another and become almost indistinguishable, because the images we are presented with in the music video appear in our everyday lives.

 As was the instance in previous chapters, the importance of the author comes back into play with Postmodernism. Hutcheon writes that the “postmodern artist is no longer the inarticulate, silent, alienated creator of the romantic/modernist tradition” (The Politics of Postmodernism, 18). A rather literal and famous example of this would be Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, where, towards the end of the novel, Vonnegut himself explicitly enters the world of the novel and orders a drink. Again, we see the boundaries between reality and fiction blurred, and traditional narrative constructs challenged. BTS play an even more obviously vocal role in their position as artist, as they write, perform, and act in their music videos.

“If there are no overarching explanatory social theories, […] if there are no ‘truths’, ‘absolutes’ or ‘universals’, […] then all we have left is to constantly re-invent ourselves as we respond to fragments of the spectacle […] of the mass media” (Mundy, 261). Constructing an identity in a cultural climate which is constantly shifting and changing is an unstable endeavour. If we are to reject metanarratives, or at the very least approach them with scepticism, and embrace the sign as reality, as Mundy suggests, then individual identity becomes a changing kaleidoscope.

Hutcheon argues that “the postmodern world is utterly mediated through representations” (The Politics of Postmodernism, 29).  In a similar fashion, Mundy asserts that “for postmodernism, the sign has become reality” (emphasis in original, 260). The music video constructs a dreamscape, a series of images or signs that the viewer internalises, and then finds “reproduced and reverberating beyond the world of the TV set” (Mundy, 260). Consequently, the silences and gaps in the representations, the images, the signs that we see, reveal to us our own internalised metanarratives, and the cultural constructs that we simply took as natural. Hence Postmodernism actually “challenges our mimetic assumptions about representation […]: assumptions about its transparency and common-sense naturalness” (The Politics of Postmodernism, 30).  If Postmodernism is focussed on challenging what it is we take for granted as ‘natural’, then we must examine what it is that BTS are asking the spectator to challenge when watching their music videos.

While homosexuality is not outright illegal in South Korea, same-sex marriages are not legally recognised. In 2016, just four months before BTS released the first of their Demian-based music videos, a prominent gay film director filed a lawsuit seeking legal status for his marriage which was rejected by a South-Korean district court. It is noteworthy, then, that the homoerotic, or at the very least homoromantic, undertones in the relationship between Max Demian and Emil Sinclair were not shied away from in BTS’s adaptation. In the final pages of the novel, Sinclair dreams of Demian appearing in his ward, and kissing him. This kiss, it seems reasonable to argue, is reflected in BTS’s music video “Blood Sweat & Tears”, when Kim Seokjin kisses a statue that appears to represent the god Abraxas, an important symbol in both the music videos and Demian itself. Furthermore, it is heavily implied that another member of BTS, Kim Taehyung, embodies Abraxas also; as Seokjin is about to kiss the statue, the shot cuts to reveal Taehyung has two large gashes in his back, where he supposedly once had wings – just as the statue does (04:44 – 05:32). Cutting these two scenes together, rapidly switching back and forth, makes an explicit connection and implies a homosexual theme runs throughout the music videos. The novel Demian puts a heavy emphasis on the good versus evil, purity and light versus contamination and darkness, even sin; it is impossible to ignore the influence of Hesse’s experiences being raised in an intensely Christian household. As mentioned in previous chapters, Hesse was exposed to a type of Christianity that combined “a scrupulous soul-searching inwardness with a sense of sin and unworthiness” (Mueller, 146). Christianity has become an increasingly strong presence in South Korea. Including this homoerotic tension is subversive of the Christian metanarrative which establishes homosexual relationships as sinful and inherently ‘wrong’. Including the romantic undertones of Sinclair’s relationship with Demian is a conscious choice on the part of the adapter, that is, BTS.

The other primary grand narrative that BTS challenge with their work is the nature of ‘high art’. Taking pieces of high literature and adapting them into a ‘lower’ form such as the music video, and placing them against the backdrop of their pop music and rap, complicates our understanding of the source texts. Are Demian and “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” still considered high art now that they have been consumed by masses, thanks to a boyband from South Korea? The videos evoke similar or even identical emotions in the spectator through a medium which is accessible to millions of people. Furthermore, it is significant that BTS chose to adapt texts from the Western canon, rather than to select Eastern texts. This further subverts predisposed notions of superiority, originality, and possibly even highlight latent casual racist beliefs of Western intellectual superiority. Without looking carefully, one could simply brush the music videos off as frivolous pop culture, completely oblivious to their own subscriptions to metanarratives presenting them with only half-truths.

Note: this post’s feature image is taken from Wikipedia. A print from Bernard de Montfaucon‘s L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures (Band 2,2 page 358 ff plaque 144) with different images of Abraxas.

MAP OF THE SOUL: Introduction (1/5)

Welcome! I thought it would be interesting to post my undergrad dissertation to this blog, in between other, more informal posts! Enjoy!

“An examination of the cultural significance of the work of Bangtan Sonyeondan and an exploration into the relationship between their music videos and the literary works of Hermann Hesse and Ursula Le Guin.

I would like to thank Prof. Alex Davis for his open mind and endless patience while supervising this project.

This dissertation is dedicated to BTS, for all the light and love they bring into the world.


“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid.”

(Le Guin,256-257)

In 2013 Big Hit Entertainment, a South Korean entertainment company, debuted their first boy group, Bangtan Sonyeondan, better known as BTS, with their single “No More Dream”. The group is comprised of seven members: Kim Seokjin; Min Yoongi; Jung Hoseok; Kim Namjoon; Park Jimin; Kim Taehyung; and Jeon Jungkook. In just six short years, BTS have become one of the biggest boy groups in the world, breaking records previously set by One Direction, Justin Bieber, and even the Beatles. In 2017 they won their first Billboard Music Award for Top Social Artist, breaking Bieber’s winning streak, and gaining a record amount of fan votes – over 300 million. Listing off Bangtan’s plethora of awards and achievements alone would surpass the word count limit for this essay; suffice to say, BTS have become a global force in a way that Korean artists have never done before. In the last twelve months alone, they have completed their first world tour, sold out two concerts at Wembley stadium, and appeared at the Grammys, performed on Saturday Night Live, the Graham Norton Show, and the Late Late Show with James Corden, to name but a few.

It should be stated clearly, however, that their success in the West is not what has made them suddenly worth examining. The borderline infuriating surprise at the quality of BTS’s content, as well as their international success, is proof enough that Western intellectual superiority still tinges our perception of what makes ‘good’ art, and what makes art ‘successful’. The band has done many collaborations with Western artists, such as Halsey, Fall Out Boy, Ed Sheeran, and the Chainsmokers. However, their discography, which now includes hundreds of songs, thus far contains just one song composed with lyrics sung exclusively in English. BTS have transcended language with their music, their music videos, and most significantly, their message.

Put simply, the band’s message is this: love yourself. Having rocketed into the global spotlight, BTS have taken their platform and used it to further this message of self-love, hope, and mental-health awareness (several of the members have had experiences with depression and anxiety, and even suicidal ideation – unsurprising when you consider that, according to The Korea Herald, the main cause of death in young people in South Korea in recent years is suicide). In November 2017, BTS launched the LOVE MYSELF movement, a two-year anti-violence campaign, in conjunction with the Korean and Japanese Committee for UNICEF. The campaign’s website home page reads “[w]ith our love and care, this world can be turned into a better place where people can dream of tomorrow” (LOVE MYSELF). In September 2018, BTS’s Kim Namjoon gave a speech at the launch of ‘Youth 2030: The UN Youth Strategy’, where he urged young people all across the world to love and be kind to themselves. He encouraged a practical form of self-love, by embracing even the ugliest parts of one’s self, stating of himself; “[t]hese faults and mistakes are what I am, making up the brightest stars in the constellation of my life” (04:14). This message of hope and love is a universal one, and has consequently reached millions upon millions of people all over the world.

Boy bands such as BTS are often brushed aside as frivolous for many reasons: they make pop music, and so lack any ‘proper’ meaning; their fan base is comprised largely of young women; the members are too optimisitic, or try too hard to seem likeable. Undeniably, however, BTS largely make people happy, and, taking a page from Le Guin’s book, it seems unwise to brush this happiness off as something uncomplicated, unintelligent, or unimportant. Due to the enormity of Bangtan’s influence, which only grows each day, it seems only right to survey what it is the band are doing, and how. For example, one of the most fascinating things about the band’s work is their adaptations of literary texts. At first glance, their selected texts appear peculiar; thus far, Bangtan have exclusively adapted texts written by Western authors. Curiously, most of these authors have had a fascination with Eastern philosophy at some point in their lives. Thus, the following chapters will explore the global cultural significance of BTS’s work by examining their adaptations of Hermann Hesse’s novel Demian and Ursula Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”. More specifically, each of the three chapters will focus on a specific perspective; adaptation theory, intertextuality, and Postmodernism, respectively.

The first chapter, on adaptation, will investigate the nature of cross-cultural adaptation, and transmedia. Demian and “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” are brought across time and cultural space through BTS’s adaptations, which prompts us to ask why it is that the band selected these texts. Then, in the second chapter, which deals with intertextuality, the discussion will build onto the ideas established in the previous chapter, and consider the conversation BTS wish to have with Le Guin’s world of “Omelas” through their music video “Spring Day”. Much of adaptation theory overlaps with the ideas surrounding intertextuality; to avoid repetetive statements or observations, Chapter One will deal primarily with Demian, and Chapter Two will place its focus on “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”. Finally, the third chapter will study the relationship between the texts from the perspective of Postmodernism. It will examine the way that BTS use the music video to challenge metanarratives, or even the way the music video most accurately represents the way we construct reality in the twenty-first century.

The ultimate aim of this essay is to achieve a perspective as comprehensive as possible of the significance of BTS’s work. By combining each of these critical approaches, as well as studying their relationship with the works of Hermann Hesse and Ursula Le Guin, we should be left with a greater understanding of how, and why, Bangtan Sonyeondan have become an international success.

Note: this post’s feature image is the album cover of BTS’s EP, “Map of the Soul: Persona”. Taken from Wikipedia.