The Art and Culture of Monsters

Mary Shelley

I think it all starts with the Monster in the Closet. Or under the bed. Or on the roof. Or perhaps perched in the tree just outside our window — the one that makes us take the risk to get out of bed and pull the curtains just a little tighter. Anything that might keep the monster at bay. That’s our first experience of it, I think, of knitting together the darkness with the creak of a settling house that sounds like footsteps or the shaft of light that turns an ordinary coat on a hanger into a deformed beast. Yes, we knit those things into our very own monster. But that’s just the shape of it. The force of it comes from our lives. It’s that overbearing parent who never fails to let you know just how inconvenient you are, the bully at school who makes you want to eat alone in the lunchroom, that ancient teacher who practically makes you piss yourself if you dare show up without the right crayons.

For many of us, monsters are our first real work of art. In this moment, we go beyond the simple drawings of family and friends, of our homes bathed in sunshine. When we stare into the darkness of that closet, all of our fears bubble to the surface and any creak that reaches our ears, any shape we perceive in that darkness, coalesce into a metaphor of that fear, years before that literary term would mean anything at all to us. We, as children, are no different than the first storytellers who used hybrids of humans and beasts to explore the darkest aspects of existence.

In an interview with Big Think, Guillermo Del Toro tells us that, “Obviously, monsters are living, breathing, metaphors. But for me, half of the fun is explaining them socially, biologically, mythologically, and so forth.” Del Toro, and others of his ilk – the Shelley’s, Stoker’s, Lovecraft’s, Barker’s, and King’s of the world – all understand this. Monsters don’t terrify us because they are unknown to us. We fear them because we know them too well. They have our shape, distorted by the cruelty and hatred we see in the world, but familiar nonetheless. Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker created their monsters out of death; both the Creature and Dracula are abominations to nature and society. H.P. Lovecraft challenged the arrogance of human existence with tales of creatures far older and far more significant to the universe than the frail human condition. Clive Barker and Stephen King, two of our modern masters of horror, take very different approaches: Barker weaves dark, hellish creatures to represent human frailty, while King uses the monsters of our everyday lives to attack our sense of safety. Then, of course, Del Toro himself, for whom fairy tales represent both safety and terror, layers the beautiful danger of fantasy against the cruelty of the human world.

This will be the work of this project: to explore the metaphors behind the monsters, to examine our world through the lens of horror, and to dissect the creative process that pulls these terrifying, beautiful creatures into the light. Through word, image, and sound, we will take a journey into the darkness and listen to what the children of the night have to tell us.

If you are interested in being part of this journey, if you have a essay you would like to write or if you are a “maker of monsters” who would like to be interviewed, please email brien@monstaphors.com

Welcome, and enjoy.

 

 

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