Duluthian creates fantasy web series in Scotland
Monsters don't scare Amy Hoff.
The Duluth East graduate received her masters degree in Scottish history and literature from the University of Glasgow. She stayed in Glasgow to pursue her Ph.D. in Scottish ethnography and folklore — in particular, monsters.
Now she's taking a break from her studies to create a supernatural web video series called "Caledonia," based in Glasgow.
"The videos are actually based on a series of unpublished novels that I wrote that are all based on my experiences living in Scotland and studying all this folklore," Hoff said. "Each season is based on a novel."
The videos follow the story of a newly-divorced police officer and folklore fanatic, Leah Bishop. When she is assigned to a new department, she discovers the unseen world of supernatural creatures living within Glasgow. The supernatural creatures deal with some of the same problems as the humans — violence, alcoholism and "even the faeries have drug problems."
"I wanted to write about the dissonance between living in this harsh city while studying these myths and folklore," Hoff said. "Another reason I started writing the books was because everyone always sees the same tired monster tropes again and again. The world is full of amazing stories and so many more monsters than the zombie/werewolf/vampire thing, which is why the primary characters in the story are selkies and various other things."
One of Hoff's favorite creatures, and one that features prominently in her work, is a selkie. In Scottish mythology, a selkie is a seal that can turn into a man by shedding his seal skin on land.
"They're these beautiful dark-haired, dark-eyed men with cute seal-like faces with big brown eyes and long hair. And they would go into the village and fall in love with a woman and take her to the sea to turn her into a seal. Or the woman could steal their skin and bind the selkie to her," Hoff said.
She said there are several tales of women stealing the skin of a selkie and hiding it in her attic. The selkie would live happily with the woman until he rediscovered his hidden skin and go back to the sea and break the woman's heart. One theory suggests that these tales were used to excuse unexplained highland pregnancies.
"Because they were small communities, you could either blame Angus down the street or say, 'It was the Selkie man that seduced me,'" Hoff said.
In Hoff's series, the character "Dorian Grey" is a selkie and the main character's investigative partner. Hoff liked the idea that the original selkies were men, though she said this changed in later myths.
"The stories changed in the Victorian era and the selkies became females. So instead of it being this cool story where the women have agency and the men are seductive, it becomes very near to abuse. So it says a lot about the world view during that era," Hoff said.
Hoff has been in Scotland for about five years now and said one of the big differences she's noticed between there and Duluth is seeing animals in everyday life.
"Back home, you'll see deer and wolves and think nothing of it. It's normal. These people have never seen a wild animal in their city, besides maybe a fox. And my friends here look at me almost like I'm a weird pioneer woman when I tell them stories from back home," Hoff said.
Hoff hopes to film a third series of videos, part of which takes place in Minnesota, but she's having a hard time convincing her friends to come over with her.
"If we get to film it, I told my friends that they'd have to come to Minnesota with me. My one friend was like 'Absolutely not! It's terrifying!' To be fair, I had just told him a story about seeing a wolf," Hoff said.
The crew just wrapped on the second season of videos which will premiere online on Sept. 15. The first season is available online, but Hoff warns that it is a little low in production value.
"When we started this, we just went out and bought cameras and started shooting. We only had one person who had a background in film. The rest of us had theater backgrounds," she said.
After filming the first season, a fan connected the group to a film production company called Tachy Studios, who agreed to produce their second season.
"Here's the thing; if we hadn't even done this much, then those people [the production company] would have never even seen us. None of this would have happened. So while that's true that it's not the best, it's still out there and that's the most important thing," Hoff said. "In everything I've done, I've always decided that I'm just going to go do this because it seems like a good idea to me."
You can watch the first season of Caledonia online at www.caledoniaseries.co.uk.