Wednesday, October 27, 2010
“You’re not real…you’re dead!”
By Scott Nicholson
It’s easy as pumpkin pie.
You take a creature that has never lived, or has lived and died, or is waiting to be born. And then you make it human enough for readers to relate. Basically, we want monsters we recognize, but we also want them to be fantastic.
Us, but not us. Dark, but not too dark. And ultimately we get back to human characters that we furnish with fangs, claws, burial shrouds, and beady red eyes.
It’s what a friend of mine used to call the “forehead bump” syndrome in science fiction—it’s a lot easier to fabricate an alien if you slap some forehead bumps on a human face instead of creating an entirely new creature, with new rules, features, and mythos.
Sure, the vampire has gone through many permutations since Vlad the Impaler and Bram Stoker, and the old-school rules of garlic, holy water, and fear of sunlight get thrown out the door for the convenience of the writer. In my story “The Vampire Shortstop” from the YA collection Flowers, I blend traditional and futuristic elements, because though the vampire kid drinks blood (from a sports bottle) and obviously has to play in daylight, he also turns into a bat and can hypnotize other kids with his red eyes. Sparkly vampires are purely a manifestation of the 21st Century.
Our werewolves rarely obey the law of only coming furry under the light of the full moon, because otherwise the books and movies would become awfully dull while we kill 27 days of story time with character development, love triangles, and “werewolf struggling to live a normal life” between the savage slaughter we are anticipating.
Witches who used to be completely evil, cooking and eating children in fairy tales, until Glenda in Wizard of Oz and Samantha Stevens in “Bewitched” ruined it for all warty-nosed, toothless old hags forever. My reluctant teen witch Crystal in October Girls practices trailer-trash magic, based more on Appalachian folklore than European myth, and she’s not too happy about having to guard the portal to the afterlife. The novel Cursed I am co-writing with J.R. Rain has a family of witches that bungles along with crumbling old texts and toadstools.
Drummer Boy) and sometimes both angelic and sinister (Speed Dating with the Dead). They can also be purely psychological suggestion, as used by Alexandra Sokoloff and Sarah Langan.
Shapeshifters are pretty wide open, and I have one as a sinister preacher/Golem in The Red Church. And sometimes they can blend, like the evil clown in Stephen King’s It. Mummies are fairly one-dimensional, since we all know from Scooby Doo that all we have to do is unwrap them and they’re pretty inept.
And zombies are pretty much plugged into any type of story these days—even as romantic objects, so even the living dead have to bear some resemblance to the living, if only to show us what we’re really like when you take away our caffeine, American Idol, and iPods.
But I love all our monsters. We get plenty of real life in our real lives, and it’s tiresome. I think we all deserve a vacation into places where we’re us but not us. It’s the Monster Mash.
What’s your favorite monster?
Scott Nicholson is author of 12 novels, including the paranormal thrillers The Red Church, Disintegration, Ashes, and October Girls . He’s also written four comic series, six screenplays, and more than 60 short stories. His web site is www.hauntedcomputer.com.
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Posted by ParaJunkee at 8:36 AM