Saturday, March 21, 2015

Horror Theory: Some Thoughts on Monsterology (Part Two)

In the previous post there was discussion of the likely origins of various monsters, whether real or imagined.  Humanity’s traditional predators, now vanquished for the most part, probably supplied the material for some of our earliest nightmares.  With the advance of civilization and its subjugation of the wilderness, familiar predators and other creatures became intermixed in fanciful creations and amalgamations of animal forms.  These overlapped with cryptids, those mysterious organisms that exist in the corners of our eyes, just out of reach of capture and documentation.  The Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, Chupcabra and their cousins thrive in the remaining districts of unknown terrain, both in reality and in our minds.

As human civilization became more aware of itself, its own monstrosity, which had been projected outwards for millennia, became internalized.  Modern creatures of terror and horror often take a human form, and are typically a reflection of our own divided, depraved souls.  In this sense “Man is the measure of all things” as Protagoras once said, “of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not.”  Humanity has long endeavored to be its own gauge of beauty, order and knowledge as well as of horror and despair.  (The result of this hubris is not infrequently that same horror and despair.)

As our minds expand with knowledge and awareness, hitherto unsuspected regions of darkness are illumined—at least their edges. The future creates new unknown territories to explore and populate with horrible creatures:  outer space, the impact of worldwide instantaneous communication, human genetic engineering, religious extremism—to name just a few.  The form of the monstrous expands beyond the merely human to take amorphous, shifting, indeterminate shapes—the kind of nightmares that H.P. Lovecraft envisioned.

This is not to suggest there is a necessary chronological or historical sequence of “monsterological development”—from man-eating lion to Yog-Sothoth.   All along this continuum there are archetypal beasts that are likely to reappear over time whenever conditions are right.  “They all died vast epochs of time before man came,” as Lovecraft writes in The Call of Cthulhu (1928), “but there were arts which could revive Them when the stars had come round again in the right positions in the cycle of eternity.”

What follows is a rough model of monstrosity, a means of conceptualizing and classifying these creatures  along various parameters.  The image of the monstrous changes over time: it becomes more or less like a traditional predator, more or less human in appearance and power, more or less familiar as a fellow life form.  A key assumption here is simply that monstrosity involves a deviation from the ideal human physical and social form, as defined by the culture in which it originates.       

The progression is not strictly linear, not always moving forward.  Monstrosity moves back and forth along a continuum, but always away from a center or average, which is the ideal human form.  In a sense, monstrosity, plotted on a graph, might look like a statistical “bell curve”, with standard deviations marking off the boundaries of increasing terror.  (Chronologically, the chart is read bottom to top.)

A Continuum of Monstrosity

Other continua are certainly possible.   Because The R’lyeh Tribune focuses on early twentieth century horror, science fiction and fantasy it is likely that more contemporary teratogenesis has been overlooked. Further development of this model would involve assignment of examples from movies and fiction to the various subheadings, a task I leave for now to my readers.

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