As I mentioned previously, monsters were thrown out of Lightbreaker, the first book of the Codex of Souls. The little mantra I hummed to myself while I was writing was: “Men and Mantras/Shotguns and Sigils.” I was going to write an urban fantasy book without vampires, lycanthropes, zombies, angels, or demons.
(Some will argue that Markham, the protagonist of the series, is a psychic vampire, and I think that’s an accurate description as long as you cite Colin Wilson’s The Space Vampires and The Mind Parasites as antecedents. I’d also describe Markham as a self-alienated schizophrenic, more in keeping with Colin Wilson’s more seminal book, The Outsider. Depends on what you’re willing to believe, really. Someone in the back will soon shout out that the soul-dead in Lightbreaker are zombies, and yes, you caught me there too. What can I say? Zombies freak me out. Part of what writers do is work their night terrors out on the page.)
Monsters fall into two categories: either they are terrifying and unexplained, or they are Not Us, but for some reason they have entered into a relationship with our species. The modern trend in urban fantasy (and in the bleed-through from paranormal romance) is to move past the early stage of wonder and disgust at those who are alien and get right to the part where we think about having sex with them. Because, apparently, that’s what we do when we’re confronted with a creature that is physiologically distinct from us, a predator that views us as prey, and whose basis in folklore and mythology is mostly ignored because that would raise additionally awkward questions about morality and faith. Yep, we want to get naked with things that we shouldn’t. More people would die in bear attacks every year if it wasn’t so damn cold in the woods.
Anyway, we kill a lot of our monsters every year in the fiction we read. By making them desirable, we defang them. We take away what is terrifying about them when we transform them into sex objects, as we convince ourselves that we are mastering our fear of the unknown. But are we?
I think we’re more afraid of our fellow man. We’re more terrified of the innocent-looking neighbor who might worship a different god or who have a predilection for devouring children or who might simply want to tell us what we can do in the dark privacy of our own home. These sorts of monsters are hard to defang because you can’t find them, because they aren’t physically different than you or I. What makes them different is the way they think.
In Heartland, Markham wrestles with the issue of Free Will versus Determinism, and it’s a battle that I think is still very much a part of our daily terror. We don’t understand why people would freely chose to think differently than we do, and so we lump them a general category of “wrongdoers” as determined by their race, religion, or preference for one thing or another. We classify them as the Enemy, as the Other, as Possessed by Ill Humors That Don’t Allow Them To Understand Freedom, and having classified them, we can more readily dispose of them.
But, in our hearts, we know they came into the world the same way we did, that their mothers and fathers loved them as ours did, and that they laugh and love in the same way we do. They’re not as alien as we think, and because thinking about them too much in that way makes us wonder who is the real monster in the relationship, we distract ourselves with dreaming of a love affair with the fantastic.
A hundred-foot tall, tentacled monstrosity that may rise some day from its endless slumber beneath the ocean and decimate humanity through sheer indifference to our existence is a theoretical terror, and while my brain may quail a bit at the sheer scope of a Cthulhu Attack, what makes me quiver in the dead of night is how we justify destroying each other.
On The Existence of Monsters first appeared at Omnivoracious on March 03, 2010.