When the word ‘monster’ is spoken out loud, it conjures up images of Mary Shelley’s monstrous Frankenstein, and Count Dracula, the vampire creation of Bram Stoker. Yet, if we consider the world in which we live today, and consider the notion of what a ‘monster’ truly is, then we may think of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, or Timothy McVeigh, the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. Taking this into consideration, it becomes clear that there are essentially only two broad classifications of monsters – those which are real, and those which are imagined.
Professor David Schmid postulates that “…the most distinctive monsters in any culture are the ones that we don’t immediately recognize.” (“Defining “The Monster””). To that end, he has researched and written about serial killers, which he refers to as a “cultural monstrosity.” (“Defining “The Monster””). Other examples of real monsters that exist in society that strike fear into our hearts are rapists, paedophiles, terrorists – basically any person that partakes in destructive deviant behavior, right under our very noses, undetected. Although each of these real monsters harm other people in different ways, they are all the same in that the strike very real fear deep into our hearts.
Imagined monsters are far more obvious. Professor David Castello believes that the reason our society is so fascinated with monsters is because they reflect our own deepest, darkest fears and desires. The most obvious ones that spring to mind are vampires, witches, zombies, and werewolves. The key defining feature of imaginary monsters are that they are usually physically abhorrent, and they want to do humans harm.
When we consider the aforementioned monsters – vampires, witches, zombies, and werewolves, they all share a common feature, that is, the desire to consume human flesh and blood. This is essential to the survival of the vampire, but for witches, zombies and werewolves, this is a preference but not a necessity.
These four monsters can be further classified into two subcategories – the living, and the dead. Vampires and zombies are animated, despite having been killed. Witches and werewolves, on the other hand, are living.
Another subcategory that applies to these four imagined monsters are their ability to shapeshift or not. Werewolves can change from a human into a wolf, and back again. Vampires can shapeshift from human form into animal form, usually a bat or a wolf (according to Bram Stoker, creator of Dracula.)
Vampires and witches possess supernatural powers, and they both have in common the power of flight. They can both also read and control the minds of humans. Werewolves and zombies do not possess these abilities.
If we narrow a classification of monsters down into that of vampires only, then there are many variations to be found in modern popular fiction. The vampires created by Anne Rice in her Vampire Chronicles are closely aligned with Count Dracula – they can fly, the cannot go out in the sun, they need to feed on blood to survive, and they can be killed by a stake through the heart. They do not shapeshift, however. Another famous band of vampires created by Stephanie Meyers are those in her Twilight series. These vampires can go out into sunlight, and they seem completely invincible against humans. The one thing that unites these vampires is their obsession with humans, and their ability to fall deeply in love with mortals despite their need to feed on them.
To conclude, monsters can be broadly split into two categories – real and imagined. Both wish to do people harm, and thus both generate fear. Of those monsters that are imagined, they share a monstrous appearance; real monsters are not as easy to discern. The most well-known imaginary monster that is represented again and again in popular fiction with recognizable features and abilities is, of course, the vampire.
- Antonnen, Romona. “The Savage and the Gentleman; a Comparative Analysis of Two Vampire Characters in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat”. Vaxjo University: School of Humanities. Autumn 2000. PDF. Accessed 29 December, 2016.
- Donovan, Patricia. “Monster Culture”. University at Buffalo. Web. Accessed 29 December, 2016.
- Godfree, Tori E. “Vampires: The Ever-Changing Face of Fear.” Inquiries Journal. Web. Accessed 29 December 2016.
- Melton, J. Gordon, and Hornick, Alysa (eds.). “The Vampire in Folklore, History, Literature, Film and Television.” (2015). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers.