“Dr. Moslener mentioned earlier how Evangelical Christians more or less had their own version of Halloween by purposely protecting themselves from demons and ghosts every October 31st by decorating their homes with charms and such.” ~excerpt from my essay on the panel ‘Halloween and Religion’
Humans have created monsters since the beginning of our time. There’s no denial that in a lot of ways, some men and women (and sometimes children), become monsters themselves; rapists, murderers, sadists, et cetera. Last week, I asked the question, why do people write these scary stories “about monsters and humanity’s weak position in the universe”? Other than an adrenaline rush, what’s the point?
My hypothesis is that people write them in order to deal with reality; these monsters, whatever they might be or do, reflect the emotions and events that take place at the time the author puts them down on paper. By having these magical or science fictional beings, the real issue seems less real and somehow it’s easier to handle that issue. Each monster-contained scenario has its own set of rules and logic. If one runs across a certain monster, they know how to fight it; like with vampires, you know you’ll need a piece of sharp wood to stake the bastard with. But how do you fight terrorism? What can you do when a mother murders all her children and kills herself? How do you help someone who’s mentally ill? Stories about monsters look more appealing when you have clear options and a way out.
Back in October, I attended a panel conducted by four professors from the religion and philosophy department, which was called, “Ghosts, Ghouls, Goblins and God: Halloween and Religion.” They discussed the origin of Halloween and what other culture groups use it for, how Christians handle the outburst of love for magic and monsters, where some beasts stem from, and what we can learn from the Bible and its influence on American culture. I wrote an essay about it for extra credit, so now I’m going to share some excerpts with you; although, I won’t discuss the entire panel (maybe for another time). The conversation began with vampires.
According to Dr. Zwissler, vampires were originally undead, mysterious creatures that travelers would run into on the road. The idea thereof was conceived in Eastern European culture and unlike today, they were not pretty. This was a point the professor emphasized numerous times, because she wanted to make it clear to everyone that these were un-humans who had returned from the dead and been forced to wander at night. They somehow remained in their physical form, but they were not suave or well-dressed, and they were rather red-faced “confused corpses” who behaved “pretty weird” in comparison to human nature. Furthermore they lacked social skills and would no longer act like the people they were before they died. For whatever reason, those who became vampires had been denied to cross over to the other side after death. […] Zwissler said that this concept about the vampire conjured from periods of “wasting disease” such as tuberculosis which was when people found no practical answer – other than magic – to a sickness that killed hundreds.
The next day, I conducted some research and found a site that said, “Slavic language and literature scholar Jan Louis Perkowski concludes that vampires ‘all serve a single function: to magically deal with the very real problem of unexplained deaths, particularly die to contagious illness.'” Later it was scary to discover that some folks in Eastern European countries legitimately still believe that vampires are real. There have been cases in which people who fell ill after a family member died determined that the life was being sucked out of them, because (apparently) this relative had become a vampire and it was hunting them down.
I wrote in my essay: When one family in Romania lost a relative in 2004, several family members became sick and they thought it was their dead relative draining the life out of them. In result, they dug up his grave, carved out his heart, burnt it, then boiled it in water and the entire “family drank the mixture.” In the age of information, people commit such horrible acts for such ignorant reasons. Holy crap, imagine what people would do to each other during the 1700s when vampire beliefs sprouted. We don’t really need Dracula when there are people like that in the neighborhood.
Are We Alone?
Remember what I said about the unknown unknown in my previous Saturday post? While the traditional monsters are considered the known unknown, there are certainly stories in which writers entertain the idea that there are creatures in the universe that simply know and understand everything that exists. In the meantime, human beings are merely playthings, paws, or nothing at all. It may be an extremely nihilistic way to view our entire existence, but as someone who only vaguely believes in God, I like to consider what possible answers lie outside Christianity. I speak for myself when I say that writing about ambiguous forces and problems that may not have solutions somehow helps me keep my ego in check. It helps me consider what it means to have unsolved mysteries, or what might lie beyond death, and beyond the borders of the Milky Way.
Toward the end [of the panel], there was a debriefing over how monsters on television and in movies changed after “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”: all of the sudden there were “good vampires” and predators with a conscience that could become friendly or change in some way. I myself have always found that silly, because monsters are the worst conceivable living beings in the universe that are supposed to embody our fears and anxiety, and at some level, they should be beyond our level of thinking or acting like rabid, extremely powerful animals. This censorship of these horrific beings should simply end, because it is a naïve idea that monsters can be turned through love and goodwill. In a way, these monster stories are tales about about ourselves. They should force us to explore and consider parts of ourselves and our society, because in a twisted and artistic fashion, these stories are more or less a reflection of our world.
So what kind of horror story would you prefer to read?
* A story where the humans are chased by some monster, OR where the human is the monster.
* One about the known unknown OR the unknown unknown.
* A story in which the place is the object of terror OR in which a form of living creature is the terror.