Thursday, 12 October 2017

Recommend: Monsters of the World

For this month’s recommendation post, we’re asking readers to tell us about their favorite monsters of the world. What inhuman or almost-human beast, hybrid, giant or otherworldly creatures most fascinates, terrifies or speaks to you? As usual we have asked a handful of authors, artists and other friends to prime the pump with their suggestions, but what we really want is to hear from you.

Jo Thomas (Journeymouse; Elkie Berstein trilogy)

It probably comes as no surprise to people who know even a little bit about me that my favourite kind of monster is werewolves. After all, I’ve written three books that involve killing and/or living with them: 25 Ways To Kill A Werewolf, A Pack of Lies and Fool If You Think It’s Over. I’ve even written blog posts about why I decided to write werewolves, the rules I use, and what I see as the history I'm tapping in to. (Although I’m not an academic who specialises in werewolves in historic literature, and I may be wrong or filtering out the stuff I don’t make use of.)

However, here’s the thing. Furry monsters have been the most intriguing to me for a while, even before I had dogs of my own and even before I started trying to work out how they would actually, well, work. Werewolves seem to represent the monster within, the animal nature that's hiding inside every human being, just waiting for that “it’s in my nature” or “it’s just the way I am” excuse to come trotting out. I want to be better than that. I want to be a human being, a person in control of themselves. On the other hand, there are times I envy these monsters, even if it’s a curse and it means they are forced to exist outside of community and civilisation. After all, they get to be a rampaging monster with no thought to the consequences.

Ernest Hogan (Mondo Ernesto)

The best monsters though are the ones that haunt your dreams, give you nightmares, and change the course of your life. So I'll have to go with the mutant slaves from the original 1953 version of Invaders from Mars—those bug-eyed, furry brutes with visible zippers down their backs. In the dreams at least, there was only one, and he was coming after me. I would go to adults, but they couldn't see—or even believe in—him. This developed into a phobia of monsters, and hatred of science fiction.

Then one nightmare, after some adult had told me there was no such things as monsters, I turned around, and there he was. I grabbed one of his arms, and it snapped off, and crumbled. He was made of the same delicate, almost solid smoke of the Magic Snakes fireworks. I punched him, and he fell apart like those flimsy snakes. I was no longer afraid of monsters. I loved them. And I loved science fiction, too. Since then, my life has been full of monsters. It makes me smile.

Alina Dimitrova (academic page)

Baba Yaga is… an old Slavic perception of horror. In the numerous variations of her legend, spread over an enormous territory, she appears as an anthropomorphic, monstrous-looking figure, a cannibal and terrifying magician who hates humans. Dwelling in a deep forest outside the human realm, she is profoundly related to the wilderness and to nature cults. Her house on chicken legs reflects in a curious way an ancient burial custom of cremating the dead in small wooden huts built on tree stumps. Absorbing elements of witch and goddess, and often associated with some female evil spirits that exist beyond the Slavic imagination (just compare the horrifying tale of Hansel and Gretel…), her multidimensional figure provides infinite perspectives for exploration that trigger the curiosity of the researcher.

The most astonishing aspect of her mythological image is her ability to turn into a positive character that helps humans, sometimes involuntarily, especially the young hero who struggles to accomplish his task and save the day.

Don Riggs (faculty page)

I was born in the Year of the Dragon. A tarot instructor once said of the King of Staffs in a spread I head dealt myself with my own deck, a card which features an old dragon, “That is your job”—not realizing that I also worked at a school with a dragon as its mascot!

The dragon has differing associations in different cultures. Largely negative in Western culture, in Chinese tradition the dragon is associated with rationality (as opposed to the passion of the tiger). In the Near Eastern roots of Western Culture, the dragon is associated with the Female, as in the Babylonian Tiamat, which was slain by Marduk. Merlin Stone, in When God Was a Woman, argues that the killing of dragons by (male) heroes in Western myth and folklore reflects male fear of the primordial Mother Goddess, whom they were trying to obliterate even in memory. Tolkien glossed the medieval dragon as an emblem of “malitia,” or malice, and it is with this in mind that one may read Smaug in The Hobbit as manifesting pride, wrath, avarice, and possibly even sloth (sleeping on a pile of treasure for 100 years).

Literary dragons that have inspired me include: Fafnir, whom I remember from reading Sigurd of the Volsungs; the unnamed dragon from Beowulf; the combination of the two in Tolkien’s Smaug, also the delightful Chrysophylax, from Farmer Giles of Ham; the dragon in Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea; Anne McCaffery’s dragons; Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s The Great Chinese Dragon.

Katharine A. Viola (art page)

My favorite monsters are trolls. I have been fascinated by these creatures since I was a child. I love how they are a diverse creature with several different species; mountain trolls, forest troll, etc. I particularly love how they are depicted as larger (much larger) than humans, but not too intelligent; they are scary and intimidating, yet easily escapable if you can outwit them.

Now tell us about your favorite/most nightmarish monsters in the comments. If you prefer, you can share your favorite monsters as images on social media, and have a chance of winning a prize (see rules from Classics International). And if you haven’t had enough of monsters, there’s a whole evening of them in London next Tuesday: Why do we need monsters?

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