Religion And Mythology in ‘Penny Dreadful’: A Narrative Analysis

Penny Dreadful cover image

‘Penny Dreadful’ stands as a captivating tapestry where threads of religion, mythology and folklore intertwine to create a rich and immersive narrative. Within the dark and mysterious world of the show, these elements serve not only as backdrop but also as crucial drivers of plot, character development, and thematic exploration. Let’s delve into the intricate web of religious and mythological references within ‘Penny Dreadful,’ unravelling their significance and their contributions to the show’s overarching themes.

The 3 witches in Penny Dreadful
Image Courtesy: Penny Dreadful Archives

I. The Intersection of Religion and Mythology:

A. Judeo-Christian Imagery:

The show draws heavily from Judeo-Christian traditions, featuring characters such as Vanessa Ives and Father Malone, whose struggles and conflicts are deeply rooted in Christian mythology. Iconography like crosses, demons, and biblical references permeate the narrative, adding layers of symbolism and depth to the storyline.

Christian elements in Penny Dreadful
Image Courtesy: Sourcerer—

B. Pagan Influences:

Alongside Christian motifs, ‘Penny Dreadful’ incorporates elements of pagan mythology, particularly through characters like Ethan Chandler, whose connection to werewolf lore echoes ancient pagan beliefs. The clash between Christianity and paganism mirrors broader societal tensions, illustrating the ongoing struggle between old and new belief systems.

Penny Dreadful
Image Courtesy: Communist Vampires

II. Mythological Archetypes and Character Development:

A. Vanessa Ives as the Chosen One:

Vanessa embodies the archetype of the chosen one, destined to confront and overcome evil forces. Her journey mirrors that of mythological heroes like Perseus or Joan of Arc, as she grapples with inner demons and external adversaries. Through Vanessa’s struggles, the show explores themes of redemption, sacrifice, and the eternal battle between light and darkness.

Vanessa Ives
Image Courtesy: IMDb

B. Dorian Gray and Immortality:

Dorian Gray serves as a modern-day echo of the immortal figures from mythology, such as Tithonus or the Wandering Jew. His quest for eternal youth and pleasure reflects timeless human desires and the consequences of unchecked ambition. The exploration of immortality delves into existential questions about the nature of life, death and the pursuit of meaning.

Dorian Gray in Penny Dreadful
Image Courtesy: Showbiz Junkies

III. Folklore and Cultural Context:

A. Victorian London as a Gothic Landscape:

The setting of Victorian London serves as a backdrop steeped in Gothic imagery and folklore. Dark alleys, fog-shrouded streets, and eerie graveyards evoke a sense of mystery and foreboding, enhancing the show’s atmosphere. Folkloric elements such as vampires, witches and séances populate this world, intertwining with historical and cultural references to create a uniquely immersive experience.

Victorian London in Penny Dreadful
Image Courtesy: Entertainment Weekly

B. The Power of Storytelling:

‘Penny Dreadful’ itself draws inspiration from the penny dreadfuls of Victorian England, cheap and sensationalist publications that often featured lurid tales of horror and adventure. By incorporating elements of folklore and mythology, the show pays homage to this tradition while also subverting and reinterpreting familiar tropes for a contemporary audience.

penny dreadful
Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

IV. Themes Explored Through Religious and Mythological Lens:

A. Sin and Redemption:

Central to many religious narratives, themes of sin and redemption permeate ‘Penny Dreadful’. Characters grapple with their own moral failings and seek salvation in various forms, whether through faith, love or self-sacrifice.

B. The Nature of Evil:

Through its exploration of demonic forces and supernatural phenomena, the show delves into the nature of evil and the human capacity for darkness. It raises questions about free will, temptation, and the struggle to resist malevolent influences.

Demon in Penny Dreadful
Image Courtesy: Communist Vampires

C. Identity and Belonging:

Characters in ‘Penny Dreadful’ often grapple with questions of identity and belonging, whether it be Ethan’s struggle with his dual nature or Vanessa’s quest for self-discovery amidst societal expectations and prejudices. Religious and mythological frameworks provide a lens through which characters navigate these existential dilemmas, seeking meaning and purpose in a world fraught with uncertainty.

Also Read: Exploring Literary Allusions And Inspirations in ‘Penny Dreadful’

Ethan in Penny Dreadful
Image Courtesy: Nerd girl power! –

‘Penny Dreadful’ masterfully weaves together threads of religion, mythology, and folklore to create a narrative tapestry that is both captivating and thought-provoking. Through its rich tapestry of symbols, archetypes, and themes, the show invites viewers on a journey of exploration into the human psyche and the eternal struggle between light and darkness. In doing so, it not only entertains but also challenges audiences to reflect on timeless questions of morality, identity and the nature of existence.