I’ve always had a fascination with monsters. Most of us do, I think. That fascination goes back to the dawn of time, really.
Early man was surrounded by all manner of beasts – some harmless, some useful and some very dangerous. Back in the days before we had identified and catalogued every single living creature on the face of this planet right down to the microscopic level (or so we believe) there were countless unkown creatures out there, surrounding us in the dark. Early man huddled together around the fire spending long nights quivering in fear over what could possibly be out there that could be worse than the lions and tigers and bears (Oh, My!) that we already knew about. In our imaginations there had to be something out there that was worse… much worse… than anything we had already seen.
At least that’s how I imagined it beginning. Later on, after we had moved into the relative safety of towns and then cities, the game went on. That impetus of fear is strong in people and can lead to all sorts of strange imaginings. So, while you are safe and cosy behind your locked doors enjoying your tea why would you need to worry about monsters?
Probably because worry is hard wired into us, but at some point the exercise becomes fun.
Monstrous creatures appear all over science fiction and fantasy and, of course, in horror. It’s not considered high art. A science fiction show can easily be dismissed as being of the “monster of the week” variety when it eschews imaginative storytelling for the mere horror of hapless victims threatened by a great behemoth. Monster movies are popular (the recent remake of Godzilla is testimony to that) but very few will try to argue that they are high art.
Nevertheless, art has its share of monsters. Strange creatures abound in paintings going as far back as… well, as far back as the cave drawings of our ancestors.
Early science fiction magazine covers never strayed far from depictions of Bug Eyed Monsters. Fantasy and horror magazines like Weird Tales had no shortage of monstrous beasts on display on their covers as well as on the pages within.
Kids especially love monsters. I know when I was a kid I couldn’t get enough. One of my favourite magazines way back then was Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland. I wasn’t alone, of course. You can’t mention the magazine to science fiction fans of a certain age without eliciting a fond smile. It may seem odd that kids would love monsters. They are, after all, the most vulnerable members of society. Almost everybody is bigger than them and they are virtually helpless when it comes to resisting bath times, bedtimes or spankings (those are things that used to happen back in the dark ages, kids. Ask your parents. Better yet, ask your grandparents).
So kids, vulnerable to the ways of the world, are the ones who spend their days thinking about horrendous creatures. Why? Possibly its a self defense mechanism. Imagine a monster that would frighten your parents. Imagine a monster so horrifying it frightens the bejeezus out of a tough-as-nails Marine!
So, just like the early humans, soft and vulnerable to any carnivore with sharper claws and teeth, kids like to imagine a creature that would be frightening even to the scary carnivores. Maybe it’s a form of self defense. After all, with every monster comes a set of rules. Don’t feed them after midnight. Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t blink. There are ways to defeat them if one is smart enough.
Maybe monster were necessary to get us through the scary nights. It seems counterintuitive to quash our fear of real dangers by inventing even more frightening imaginary ones, but, it seems that with monsters there is always an escape hatch, a set of rules, a secret knowledge, that would allow someone, usually the one with the imagination, to escape certain death.
That’s why we like to sit safe and comfortable in our theater seat with our popcorn and soda, content to sit back and watch the mayhem unfold. It’s one of the ways that we find we can cope with a big and scary world. After it’s all over, when the lights come on or the books is closed, we can sleep a little easier.
Until, of course, the monsters come back… in our nightmares.