From a young age children in America are told tales of monsters and myths from Santa Claus to the Boogeyman. As adults people know that Santa and Monsters are not real, so the question persists as to why we perpetuate these myths. Most monsters and myths are based on fact but are embellished.
In this paper the intention is to analyze monsters and myths then break them down by cultures and see the intended purpose of the monster stories. For example the vampire has many different variations depending on the culture.
What is the purpose of the stories that people tell about monsters and are the meanings different across the cultures. Almost every culture has a version of a dragon, Asians look at dragons as being protective and using magic to fly through the air. Chen Lung for example is a protector of streams and rivers. Western culture will depict dragons in a different form having wings and scales and they generally are a menace to be dispatched much like the story of St. George and the dragon.
Some cultures such as the Greeks depict Medusa as a scary monster but many do not realize that she is also looked at by other cultures as a healer (Dexter 2010). How she became a monster is as interesting as many other stories.
This paper will define how some monsters came to be and how they are depicted in literature over the centuries. The paper will show how we use monsters and myths to achieve certain goals. Are monsters just for entertainment or do they serve a purpose?
The paper will also examine how modern culture views monsters from examining television shows and modern literature from some of the most prolific horror writers such as Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft.
This paper examines the relationship between monster stories and mythological
creatures and cultural roles that are portrayed in the stories to achieve an understanding of the roles they play in society.
What are Myths and Monsters? A monster is defined in this paper as any entity that has evil intentions towards the human race. Monsters instill fear into most humans. Myths are a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature. There are several types of monsters depicted in this paper which will be described below since the definition in this paper may be different than perceived ones.
A vampire is a creature that drains its victims of either blood or life essence. Medusa is one of three sisters called Gorgons who have snakes for hair and turn people to stone with their gaze. Lycanthrope sometimes referred to as a werewolf is a term for a human who changes shape generally during full moon. A Minotaur is a creature with the body of a human but with the head of a bull. A Pegasus is a winged horse. Most are wild and unable to be tamed. A Cyclops is a giant with one eye in the middle of the forehead. A dragon is a large reptilian creature Western style has wings while the eastern type is usually wingless and flies through the use of magic usually a gem in the forehead. Dragons are associated with breathing fire. A chimera is a creature that is made of two or more creatures and example of a chimera would be a griffon.
The Greeks had many stories of Gods and Monsters such as the Cyclops which are now though to have originated due to the fact that someone stumbled across either an elephant or a mammoth skull and mistook the hole where the trunk would be for a giant eye socket. Due to the size and structure of the skull it was assumed to be a very large race of one eyed monsters. The Cyclopes where then incorporated into stories such as the one told below.
The elder Kyklopes (or Cyclopes) were the three, orb-eyed, immortal giants who forged the lightning-bolts of Zeus. As soon as they were born, their father Ouranos (the Sky) locked them away inside the belly of Earth, along with their stormy brothers, the Hekatonkheires. When the Titanes overthrew him, they then drove the giants into the pit of Tartaros. Zeus and his brothers eventually released them and in return they provided the god with his thunderbolt, Poseidon with his storm-raising trident, and Haides with a helm of invisibility. Some say there were a total of seven forging Kyklopes. The additional four, sons of the first, were slain by Apollon to avenge the death of his son Asklepios, who was struck down by lightning. The tribe of younger Kyklopes which Odysseus encountered on his travels were a different breed altogether, probably born from the blood of the castrated sky-god Ouranos (Atsma, 2000).
Another story about the Cyclopes tells of different origins but a lot of similar traits of the first story including descriptions of the Cyclopes as being oriented to the sky with them representing thunder, lightning, and the lightning bolt.
The Cyclopes were gigantic one eyed monsters. There were three of them representing thunder, lighting, and the lightning bolt. They are named Brontes, Steropes, and Arges. They were born to Gaea and Uranus. They were also the first smiths. When Cronus came to power he imprisoned the Cyclopes in Tartarus. They were released by Zeus and fought with him against the Titans. As a reward for their release the Cyclopes gave Zeus his weapons of lighting and thunder. They continued as his workers at Mount Olympus forging his thunderbolts Arges was killed by Hermes while he guarded Io for Hera Apollo killed at least one of the Cyclopes to retribution for Zeus killing his son Aesculapius (Hunt 2012).
The stories are very detail oriented and well thought out. In more recent times the tales of J.R.R. Tolkien have similar detailing which make the story popular. This shows the power of invention, someone invented the idea of Cyclopes and then went on to incorporate it into a story in much the same way Tolkien created a whole universe filled with fantastical creatures mixed with humans.
Sometimes invention can happen in several different ways. The story of Medusa has traditionally been one of a snake haired lady whose very gaze would turn mortals to stone. In the Iliad although she is not mentioned by name the word Gorgon is referenced and snakes for hair are not mentioned but the Gorgon head is paired with snakes on Agamemnon’s Shield (Dexter 2010). This is the depiction of most Indo-European cultures however the Greek tragedian Euripides wrote plays in an era where Gorgon heads were affixed to walls in the temples for protection also depicting Medusa as having snakes for hair (Dexter 2010).
Many cultures during the period before Christianity became popular also worshipped many different Gods with quite a few monsters coming from the union of a God and a mortal. If a humanoid child (such as Hercules) was born of this union it was called a Demi-god but if it was a monster such as the Sphinx it was a Chimera. In Egypt the God Sandas is depicted alongside his chimera which is a horned lion on tombs with the inscription “This tomb is that of Manes the son of Alus. If it anybody destroys, or these anol- or this karov- (daros-?), then shall Sannas (Sandas) and Kuoad- and Marivda- destroy him. (Mastrocinque 2008). It would appear that in this depiction Sandas and his Chimera are being used as a deterrent.
Some stories give a warning such as the story of the origins of the minotaur listed below which will warn people away from bestiality. THE MINOTAUROS (or Minotaur) was a bull-headed monster born to Queen Pasiphae of Krete after she had coupled with a bull. The creature resided in the twisting maze of the labyrinth, where he was offered a regular sacrifice of youths and maids to satisfy his cannibalistic hunger. He was eventually destroyed by the hero Theseus. The Minotaur’s’ proper name Asterion, “the starry one,” suggests he was associated with the constellation Tauros (Atsma, 2000).
In the story the creature was living in a labyrinth. In most modern retellings the story is set in a maze which has dead ends whereas in a labyrinth it is a continuous route used mostly for ceremonial reasons (Kingsley 2010). The reason for using a maze is that it gives the story more of a twist when the hero needs to use string to find his way out. This is the use of style to make a story more flowery and to enhance the tale so people will be more intrigued by the outcome. The use of the association of the minotaur with a constellation also gives the tale more depth and grounding in reality for the people of the time who believed in astrology.
Many stories of monsters are so fantastical that people are called crazy to argue for the existence of the monster but the fool tries to make counter-arguments for the Pegasus’ existence. One of these counter-arguments concerns Anselm’s claim that there are two ways in which a thing can exist, solely in the mind and outside the mind. Specifically, Gaunilo questions whether the analogy Anselm draws between a painting and other objects is accurate. He points out that an artist’s work, before the artist actually begins painting, sculpting, or building, “belong[s] to the very nature of the mind itself” whereas other sorts of things are distinct from “the understanding that grasps” them. Gaunilo’s point is that art is inextricably tied to the mind that creates it; intent to create is a necessary condition for art. In contrast, other things exist independently of the mind; the mind is not necessary for them to exist at all. Thus, while there is a sense in which an object of art exists in the mind and a sense in which that same work of art exists in the mind of the artist, there is no parallel for things that exist independently of the mind. Where the existence of something is independent of mind, Gaunilo argues, the understanding of that thing is a distinct entity from that thing itself. Thus, there are no two ways in which something-than-which-no-greater-can-be-thought exists. Rather, there really are two distinct things: the idea of something-than-which-no-greater-can-be-thought and that thing itself (Oppy, 2011).
Many stories about monsters come from true stories that may be exaggerated or misinterpreted. Stories of Vampires for instance have been around much longer than most people would think. Many people today think that vampires started with Dracula, but they would be wrong. Over the centuries tales of the vampire have been handed down through an oral tradition in many different cultures. The Strigoii vampire of Romania for instance is humanoid but with deadly staring eyes and pale skin (Curran, Biblio Vampiro, 2010). South American vampires on the other hand can appear as balls of light and drain energy instead of blood. Chinese vampires take on the shapes of dragons or lizards and do not always drink blood.
Some parts of these tales have common denominators such as the use of silver to kill a vampire and allergic reactions to sunlight. With such a wide range of types of vampires having a common trait it would be probable that some form of communication has happened between cultures as stories are passed along.
Vampire stories may have originated due to conditions such as hemophilia which caused the victims to have a pale color and bad reactions to sunlight. People such as Vlad Dracul (known as Vlad the impaler and the inspiration for Dracula) and Elizabeth Bathory were real life examples of people accused of being vampires. Vlad would kill his enemies and have their heads displayed on spikes outside of his castle to deter invaders. Elizabeth Bathory believed that bathing in the blood of young girls would give her youth.
What do vampires represent in the modern world? The vampire is what I term a historical vector-sum, the product of the accumulation of man’s darkest fears and deepest beliefs. The different vectors are primitive man’s fear of the dead, his search for immortality, his desire to control his environment, his anthropomorphic concepts of the fertility of the earth and its creation, his animism, his concept of the universe and his place in it, and his gradual, intellectual maturity, all of which have, over a long period of time, converged to give the relatively sophisticated picture of the vampire we have today. The most significant fact about the vampire is that he is able to go on “living” beyond mortal death, and the myths concerning his origin and the articles connected with him indicated a very strong connection between the vampire and the serpent. The vampire is related to the ancient fertility myths, both by the original fertility significance held by the serpent, and the vampire’s own cycled characteristics of life: his sleep patterns, his return from the dead, and his revitalization through nourishment and intercourse with the living (Thompson, 2012).
Werewolves are usually seen as humans who transform under the light of the moon. The modern tales of werewolves all seem to revolve around the origins that to become a werewolf you must be bitten by one. Tales of werewolves have been around since prehistoric times. The werewolf has been with us for a very long time. It is thought that the idea of the man-beast began in prehistoric times when our distant ancestors were hunters. They competed with the wolf when times were hard and food was scarce (Curran, The Werewolf Handbook, 2010). Werewolves have been associated with witchcraft since magic is often used in the creation of werewolves. Some tales say you have to be the child of a priest and cursed to become one, other tales say that a magic belt created by a witch and worn during the full moon will change one into a beast. Witches themselves are considered monsters and were mainly used in literature as the Devil’s concubines. Lycanthropes were not always wolves sometimes they would be a stag or any other numerous creatures. At one time people did not fear the wolf although they should as told in a Grimms Fairy tale: A soldier told the following story which had apparently happened to his own grandfather. His grandfather was said to have gone into the forest to cut wood, together with a friend and a third man who was always suspected of having something wrong with him, but what this was, was not exactly known. When the three had finished their work and had become tired, this third man suggested they have a short sleep. This then happened and everyone lay down on the ground; but the grandfather had only pretended to sleep and had opened his eyes a little bit. The third man had looked all around to see if the others were asleep and, when he thought they were, he had taken off [or put on] a belt and had become a werewolf; but this werewolf did not look like a natural wolf but slightly different. Thereupon he had run off to a field nearby in
which a young foal was grazing, which he attacked and then devoured every scrap of.
Thereafter he had returned, had put on [taken off] the belt and again lay before them in human shape. After a little while they had all got up together and had returned to the town and, when they were at the gate, the third man had complained of stomach-ache. Whereupon the grandfather had whispered secretly into his ear, “When one devours a whole horse . . . ”; the third man, however had replied: “Had you said this to me in the forest, you would not be able to say this now” (de Blécourt, 2007).
The arrangement of stories involving vampires and werewolves has changed within the last fifteen years or so. Arrangement has become a crude framework for works of fiction in which a young girl falls in love with a vampire then a werewolf comes into her life and she must decide between the two. This arrangement has been used by Laurel K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, Stephanie Myers and many more within the last decade and although it makes for a good story it is not original.
One creature that is mentioned in almost every culture is the dragon. Dragons are diverse and come in all shapes and sizes from a small sized such as a wyvern to Huge like Smorgal. Some dragons are good while others are evil , and some can even change shape. Dragons are mostly know as fire breathers and hoarders but can be associated with any of the four basic elements earth, air, fire or water (McCaffrey 1997).
The odd fact about dragons is that although they are mentioned in almost every culture there is no way these cultures could have interacted during the time the stories were created. The conclusion one must draw then is that dragons were at one time real or based on real creatures such as flying serpents.
Certain Myths and legends that are celebrated in America are often different from the versions in other countries. German Fairy tales are often toned down for American audiences, in the original telling of Cinderella for example the wicked step sisters get their toes chopped off so that they will fit the slippers. Another Myth is that of Santa Claus, in America Santa brings toys to all the good children with bad ones getting lumps of coal. Europe has a slightly sinister story of Krampus. Krampus is the dark companion of St. Nicholas, the traditional European winter gift-bringer who rewards good children each year on December 6. The kindly old Saint leaves the task of punishing bad children to a hell-bound counterpart The Horned Devil, also known as Krampus known by many names across the continent — Knecht, Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, Klaubauf, and Krampus. Usually seen as a classic devil with horns, cloven hooves and monstrous tongue, but can also be spotted as a sinister gentleman dressed in black or a hairy man-beast. Krampus punishes the naughty children, swatting them with switches and rusty chains before dragging them in baskets to a fiery place below. (Beauchamp, 2011).
Sometimes the monsters are all too real. In 1888 in the East end of London five (there may have been as many as eleven victims) prostitutes were slain by Jack the Ripper sometimes called the Whitechapel murderer. The press around the murders was so horrific to the people of the time that citizens did not go out at night for fear of being the next victim. In those pre-forensic science days, the police could do little more than flood Whitechapel with bobbies, take witness statements and gather evidence for the coroner. Scotland Yard successfully tested a pair of bloodhounds, but never used them in the investigation. But police did make use of photography for the first time. Grisly photos of a mutilated Mary Ann Kelly were probably the first crime-scene photos ever taken (Grose, 2008).
Monsters can have an effect on people who write about monsters, Howard Phillip Lovecraft had a fear of fish and so he found it therapeutic to write about monsters from the deep going so far as to create a rich and diverse pantheon of elder gods such as Chuthulu and Dagon. Lovecraft’s stories are centrally concerned with the paradox of representing entities, things and places that are beyond representation. Claims to representational truth become haunted by the impossibility of mimesis, and in tracing the limits of representation, we may also be able to imagine what lies beyond them (Kneale 2006).
Canfield has a great description of why we like to read horror fiction. Horror novels capture America’s fascination because so many of us, on some level, like to
be frightened. We anticipate the rush of fear as we turn the pages, reassured that the terror we experience is firmly confined to the book. We can read about monsters, ghosts, vampires, and ghouls because, as we shiver excitedly, the comforts and safety of our own homes surround us.
Sometimes ordinary people become monsters. In late October 1846, an early snowstorm stranded 22 men, women, and children in Alder Creek meadow in California’s Sierra Nevada. The squall came on so fiercely and suddenly that the pioneers had just enough time to erect sleeping tents and a small structure of pine trees covered with branches, quilts, and the rubber coats off their backs. Living conditions were crowded, and their wool and flannel clothes were useless against leaks and the damp ground. As time passed, seasoned wood became so hard to find that the stranded pioneers, known as the Donner Party, were often without fire for days. Huddled under makeshift shelters, the migrants ate charred bone and boiled hides until they turned to more desperate measures to survive. Today the people of the Donner Party are remembered for cannibalizing their dead in a last-ditch effort to survive (Schablitsky,2012).
Stories involving monsters can make use of all five canons of rhetoric and are used both for good and bad reasons. People can interpret the stories how they want and they are able to use persuasion with threats of monsters or warn against the dangers of not listening to their tales. Some people like to use monsters to describe things that we are unable to understand. Everyone should take care and listen to stories of monsters because some monsters are all too real.
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