Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Readings in the Genre: MONSTERS

Hey, everybody! Remember me? I'm back!

For the past ten or so years, I've been teaching in Seton Hill University's MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program. What that means is that I actually teach in a college masters program that's dedicated to horror, sci-fi, romance, mystery, etc. etc. etc. Such things exist. This semester, my RIG (Readings in the Genre... Keep up) class focuses on monsters. Not human monsters, mind you, of which there are plenty. But zombies, werewolves, vampires, and other creepy beasts that lurk under your bed at night.   Here's an excerpt from an older blog that bears repeating.

The Seton Hill "Readings in the Genre" course has begun, lead by your's truly. Our subject this time around?  Monsters.  They hold a dear place in my heart because, really, aren't we all monsters of a sort?  More on that in a minute. 

I've chosen a motley crew of misanthropic mayhem masters about whom my students must read.  Included are Vampires (that don't sparkle, dammit), werewolves, golems, demons and... well... snow.  Trust me, it all works somehow.  But I think the question that begs answer is this:  Why are we so fascinated by monsters?  Lets look at the famous monsters of literature (I'm not talking movies...Most of those are one-dimensional sacks of fetid dingo's kidneys) and see what makes them so special.

Adam (the creation from Frankenstein... yes, his name was Adam) fascinated us with his simplicity, his desire to be loved.  Child-like, he was dragged into this world and before he could even begin to question his existence, he was rejected by his creator.  Anyone who's ever watched children on the playground knows how children act:  As Adam himself stated, "If I couldn't inspire love, I would then cause fear."  How many children react to rejection with more rejection?  Most of them.  Adam is, for all intents and purposes, a child in the body of a man, lacking the maturity that comes with age, but possessing all the tools to destroy his enemies.

Look at Quasimodo from Hunchback of Notre Dame or Eric from The Phantom of the Opera and you'll see miserably misshapen men brought to their demises by the search for love and the madness that comes with it.  But the last two aren't "monsters," are they?  Not really, but they became monsters.  Much like we do.

Monsters, historically, take one of our darkest desires, one of our emotions, one of our flaws, and amplify it (or them) to ridiculous degrees until the creature in question becomes the stuff of nightmares.  So if that is true (and it is), then why are we so fascinated with monsters? 

Because they are us.  They are our fear.  They are our passions.  They are our souls, twisted almost beyond recognition and then shown to us.  They are what happens when we forget our humanity.  They are what happens when we lack the wisdom to walk away.  Monsters are designed to teach us lessons about ourselves.  You'll notice, I never called Adam a monster.  Because he wasn't.  His creator, Victor, blinded by ambition and selfish pride, was the monster.   Yet it was Adam with whom we identified.  Because we've all been that creature.  We've all felt betrayed, thrown out by those who should, but don't, care. 

They are us.  We are them.  When you read about monsters, think hard about them.  Sympathize with them.  Because they are our brothers and sisters.

So what's changed? Quite a bit, actually. The reading list has gotten longer, as have the lists of movies and short stories. And I think that's because monsters are still relevant. They are parables. They teach us what we fear, and show us paths through our own psyches. If you're in the class, strap in. If you're not and want to play along at home, here's the reading/viewing list:

  • I Am Legend- Richard Matheson
  • Breeding Ground- Sarah Pinborough
  • Cycle of the Werewolf- Stephen King
  • World War Z- Max Brooks
  • Snow- Ronald Malfi
  • Relic - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  • 30 Days of Night- Steve Niles
  • The Call of Cthulhu- H.P. Lovecraft (Download)
  • Packman's Model- H.P. Lovecraft (Download)
  • The Outsider- H.P. Lovecraft (Download)
  • The Yattering and Jack - Clive Barker from Books of Blood
  • Rawhead Rex- Clive Barker from Books of Blood
  • The Funeral- Richard Matheson from I Am Legend
  • Alien- Sigorney Weaver, Ridley Scott
  • An American Werewolf in London- (1981) David Naughton, Griffin Dunne
  • Night of the Living Dead- (1968) Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Kyra Schon
  • The Thing- Kurt Russell, John Carpenter
  • Godzilla (2014)-Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe
  • The Blob (1988) - Shawnee Smith, Chuck Russell
Writer's Workshop of Horror - Michael Knost