Friday, January 13, 2012

Here, There Be Monsters...

The Seton Hill "Readings in the Genre" course has begun, lead by your's truly. Our subject this time around?  Monsters.  They hold a dear place in my heart because, really, aren't we all monsters of a sort?  More on that in a minute.

I've chosen a motley crew of misanthropic mayhem masters about whom my students must read.  Included are Vampires (that don't sparkle, dammit), werewolves, golems, demons and... well... snow.  Trust me, it all works somehow.  But I think the question that begs answer is this:  Why are we so fascinated by monsters?  Lets look at the famous monsters of literature (I'm not talking movies...Most of those are one-dimensional sacks of fetid dingo's kidneys) and see what makes them so special.

Adam (the creation from Frankenstein... yes, his name was Adam) fascinated us with his simplicity, his desire to be loved.  Child-like, he was dragged into this world and before he could even begin to question his existence, he was rejected by his creator.  Anyone who's ever watched children on the playground knows how children act:  As Adam himself stated, "If I couldn't inspire love, I would then cause fear."  How many children react to rejection with more rejection?  Most of them.  Adam is, for all intents and purposes, a child in the body of a man, lacking the maturity that comes with age, but possessing all the tools to destroy his enemies.

Dracula, on the other hand, possesses the wisdom of immortality.  Say what you will, but Dracula is not a horror story.  It's a romance.  A tragic romance, to be certain, but a romance nonetheless.  It is, for all intents and purposes, the story that asks the reader how far he or she would go for love?  Cross an ocean?  A continent?  Reject God?  The titular character is, from his point of view, justified.  Granted, he's been driven mad by the rigors of immortality and having to feed on the life forces of others to survive, but in his mind, all he wants is the girl he lost to an uncaring God.

Look at Quasimodo from Hunchback of Notre Dame or Eric from The Phantom of the Opera and you'll see miserably misshapen men brought to their demises by the search for love and the madness that comes with it.  But the last two aren't "monsters," are they?  Not really, but they became monsters.  Much like we do.

Monsters, historically, take one of our darkest desires, one of our emotions, one of our flaws, and amplify it (or them) to ridiculous degrees until the creature in question becomes the stuff of nightmares.  So if that is true (and it is), then why are we so fascinated with monsters?

Because they are us.  They are our fear.  They are our passions.  They are our souls, twisted almost beyond recognition and then shown to us.  They are what happens when we forget our humanity.  They are what happens when we lack the wisdom to walk away.  Monsters are designed to teach us lessons about ourselves.  You'll notice, I never called Adam a monster.  Because he wasn't.  His creator, Victor, blinded by ambition and selfish pride, was the monster.   Yet it was Adam with whom we identified.  Because we've all been that creature.  We've all felt betrayed, thrown out by those who should, but don't, care.

They are us.  We are them.  When you read about monsters, think hard about them.  Sympathize with them.  Because they are our brothers and sisters.

1 comment:

  1. Powerful and thoughtful posting, Scott. And you could write that AFTER residency? But perhaps residency inspired it and you had to release the demons from the chaotic turmoil of the educational fray. :)

    The monsters you named in the post above were all male, and I have to wonder in the world of monster legends are there more male or female? Is one gender dominant, and if so...why?

    In my youth, in the backwoods of the West Virginia and Virginia...what we call the 'sticks', most legends or monster stories were almost exclusively male. Swampmen, and Mudmen abounded in the forest. Crazy eyed farmers with axes chopped up young bodies and Devil possessed madmen buried people alive. River creatures came out and drowned skinny-dippers, and murderers fed lifeless bodies to the wood-chipper in order to never get caught (that last one really happened).

    I feel you are right, when you say monsters are our fears. They are also, in some ways, our strength and our hope. Each of us hopes to tame the true monster inside him/her, and to develop the noble qualities we individually value. But no matter what, the monster is always there. It doesn't disappear, and lies in wait to revive, to live splendidly once again and drink in fear with hefty long gulps.