My Favorite Monsters: Part IBy J.S. Breukelaar
December 15, 2010
It’s that time of the year again. When thoughts turn to the dread VISA Card statement, office Christmas parties, and Uncle Creepy’s eggnog (what is that secret ingredient). As an antidote to these and other horrors, I’ve assembled a few of my favorite monsters. A Christmas card from where the wild things are to my fellow nervous breakdowners. Wishing you all a truly festive season.
Part 1. Literary.
Joseph LeFanu’s Carmilla (1872) appears before her teenaged victims either as a giant slinking cat or in a nightie drenched in blood before she fucks them senseless. And did I mention that Carmilla Karnstein only likes girls? Or her pouty lips, large eyes, slender figure and fangs? And that that she’s a late riser, hates crucifixes and fuels her nocturnal seductions by relaxing in a blood-filled coffin. Roll over Bram Stoker, girls were here first.
E.T.A Hoffman’s Olympia is the perfect woman. She won’t fidget when you read your bad poetry, she won’t lay all sorts of Freudian shit on you when you confide your father issues, and she pretty much thinks you’re amazing in every way. Hence her standard response to everything you say is a kind of gobsmacked ‘Ah, ah’. Okay, so she’s a little wooden on the dance floor, and her gaze, while devoted, can be a little blank at times, a little sorrowful. But what can you expect from an android? Sure beats the beating heart and active brain of a real woman. From Poe to Hawthorne, Shaw to Wilde to Dick to Hitchcock, Hoffman’s eternally influential The Sandman (1816) is quintessential horror in that it says more about the cruelty of creation than it says about the creature itself.
Speaking of father issues, Joe Hill’s chilling ghost dad in Heart Shaped Box (2007) is a specter and a half with a razor around his neck and staticky scribbles where his eyes should be. A Freudian blip maybe, but in this story about the damage done Hill lets no one off the hook and instead gives credit where its due—to that curious, malformed being spawned in the liminal space between writer and character, father and lover, parent and child and plot and story—that monster we call art.
Bret Easton Ellis pays homage to the bad daddy of them all in Lunar Park (2005, dedicated to his father, Robert), taking Stephen King’s writerly angst to the limit in his creation of a haunted Furby-like toy, a TERBY, who does unspeakable things to the family Labrador before turning on the writer himself. Wtf, the writer asks. Why me? Why the demons? Why the fear? Why the loss? Why the haunting, the writer asks, and what is the source?
Yeah. Y BRET.
Joe R. Lansdale’s Godzilla is on the Twelve-Step Program (1994) for recovering monsters. He’s even got a sponsor, Reptilicus, and he and Kong and Gorgo get together at the Monster Recreation Center to talk about old times. Kong isn’t doing so good, reduced to violating Barbie dolls, and Gorgo’s drunk and lovesick. All Godzilla’s left with is squishing soap sculptures between his toes in the shower and dancing on doghouses. Seems the world has passed them by—who needs monsters when you got the Klan. This is a story about American falls—from buildings, from grace, and off the wagon—and getting back up again. Which Godzilla does in one of the most heartbreaking and hilarious comebacks ever. Which goes to prove that even if Godzilla isn’t strictly literary, Lansdale sure is.
And speaking of hack with heart, what’s not to love about a demon who begins a story called Silence (1839) with the words, ‘Listen to me’. Poe at his most profane, at his most trippy terrifying dangerous addled best.
Did someone say dangerous? To those for whom the supernatural holds no fear, here’s the real deal. Cormac McCarthy’s Anton Chigurh stalks the pages of No Country for Old Men (2005) with a menace too big for the big screen. Chigurh burns the retina, singes the soul, scars the psyche, pollutes our dreams. He just can’t be processed. McCarthy’s great achievement is to create a psycho-killer devoid of character. There is no art to this monster, no method to the madness, no banality to the evil, no mercy, not now not ever. Chigurh isn’t a machine and he isn’t a monster like a vampire or the devil. A new breed, his evil is infinite and undistilled and unburdened by the past. He sees but is indifferent to guilt and to innocence, to history, to distance, pain and pleasure. He goes to the effort to flip a coin that will decide his victim’s fate not out of sadism but because it is the only way to move forward.
‘I’m here and you are there. In a few minutes, I will still be here.’
Chigurh is the future.
Great post! “Listen to me.” Wow. I’ve never read that story. Or if I have, I’ve forgotten it. Will dig it up and read it right away!
“Call it, friendo.” One of the greatest movie lines ever. (Was it in the book? Can’t remember…) Nice post. I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with some on your list. I need to catch up on my reading
Thanks guys. Those are great lines—I don’t remember the friendo bit in the book… just ‘call it’ but could be there. arrrrggh —So many books so little time. And Poe’s story, Silence, is just plain weird. Worth digging up.
Nice list! Never thought I’d see a shout-out to both LeFanu and Lansdale in the same essay.
October most years I make a point to revist Poe and Lovecraft, but I might have to consider pushing that back to December; this might be just what the holidays call for!
Definitely, Matt. And yeah, Lovecraft definitely haunts any list like this.
Oh, this was great.
‘She won’t fidget when you read your bad poetry…Okay, so she’s a little wooden on the dance floor…’
That’s good writing. Too funny. I like Godzilla. Sure, not a terrifying lizard, but as a kid and now as an aging turd I still find his face damn cure. Really. it’s in the eyes, his nice knotted skin. But at the end of the day I preferred the Gargantuas. Now, those two fuckers were both lookers and pugilists. What more do you want in a monster? Looks and fighting skills? That’s all man. That’s all monster.
But you nailed it with Chigurh. Man, J.S, when I saw this movie I couldn’t believe this character. I was confused. I didn’t understand his complete disconnection. When he played the coin game with Llewelyn’s wife and then you see him walk out of the house (knowing full well what the hell went down) I was like: Shit. I love you. Really, bro. I’m sorry, but I love you.
He is the future.
He’s beyond evil.
Cure? Uh, how about cute…
Hah! Yeah, they did that scene really well. But I still feel that Chigurh, the full deal, never quite made the transition to film. Something got left behind. Which is a good thing. I haven’t seen The Road yet. The flesheaters were a nightmare in the book, real end of days stuff. Looking forward to seeing that on the big screen.
[…] It’s that time of the year again. When thoughts turn to the dread VISA Card statement, office Christmas parties, and Uncle Creepy’s eggnog (what is that secret ingredient). As an antidote to these and other horrors, I’ve assembled a few of my favorite monsters. A Christmas card from where the wild things are to my fellow nervous breakdowners. Wishing you all a truly festive season. Read more at http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/jbreukelaar/2010/12/my-favorite-monsters-part-i/ […]