Where Monsters Dwell

Monster Awareness Month: Introduction by Robert Hood

Where Monsters Dwell

Those who have known me longest (such as my mother) reckon I’ve been unhealthily obsessed with monsters since I crawled from the womb slathering and growling and demanding pocket money so I could pick up the latest issue of Where Monsters Dwell from the newsagent. [I exaggerate, of course. The first issue of Where Monsters Dwell came out in 1970. In 1951, when I was born, I could only have demanded the latest Superman comic — either that or  something like House of Mystery.]

As a kid, I‘d whittle monsters from random scraps of wood (badly) and draw pictures of them from movies and such, in the days before more sophisticated methods of copyright violation were available. Watching monster movies has been a lifelong occupation, in fact, ever since – at about age 6 — I ran away from home (and hid out in the shed down the backyard) because my parents wouldn’t let me stay up late to catch The Creature from the Black Lagoon on our “big” black-and-white TV. It was a heinous violation of my rights and clearly indicative of a prejudice against monsters!

In high school, along with all the serious stuff like Crime and Punishment and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I read War of the Worlds (and nearly everything else, SF or not, that H.G. Wells ever wrote), Frankenstein, Dracula, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Edgar Rice Burroughs books, all the Pan Books of Horror Stories, and magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. Everything I wrote for my English teachers featured fantastical elements and monsters. One year I even decorated all my exercise books (which we were forced to cover in brown paper in those days) with pictures of the classic Universal monsters, tastefully drawn in black ink.

Later I wrote a love song about monsters, a song that was performed by a band I was in at the time – and sung by me. I have the tapes to prove it (no, it never appeared on vinyl, let alone on CD). In the lyrics, the monsters become symbols of the narrator’s lovelorn despair and desire for revenge. Here are the lyrics, for your edification:

 

NOT QUITE ALONE

1.  A triffid’s trapped me in the house
It’s rooted in the lawn;
A vampire came to me last night
And left me pale and wan;
A wingless dragon stole my car,
I can’t go anywhere;
Though something’s oozing through the door,
You left me, you don’t care.

Monsters haunt my bedroom,
Ghosts infect the hall,
And in the roaring fire
I hear Godzilla’s call;
I’m gnawed on like an ogre’s bone
And goblins fill my head
With sea-snakes and the hydras
That crawl around my bed.

Chorus: You left me, life’s turned bitter
And ghosts around me moan,
It’s all because you left me
Alone
Not quite alone
Not quite alone
Not quite alone

You left me all right, but not quite alone.

 

2.  A werewolf’s in my mirror,
He used to be a friend,
His mournful howling promises
To send me ’round the bend;
I’d like to find Medusa
To turn my heart to stone —
I know you must have seen her,
‘Cause you left me all alone.

Monsters haunt my bedroom,
Their roars disturb the peace;
Sleep is quite impossible
The torments never cease.
I know there’s demons still to come
I hear their gnashing teeth,
But I can’t burn my bridges,
‘Cause Trolls wait underneath.

REPEAT CHORUS

 

3.  My house breathes heavily because
A succubus excites it;
King Kong, who’s looking for Faye Wray,
Has found a snake and fights it;
My house is falling ’round my ears,
The ceilings crack and crumble,
While gremlins tinker in the works
And make my plumbing rumble.

Monsters haunt my bedroom
A griffin snarls and gripes,
A minotaur is lurking
Somewhere in the pipes.
I’m plagued by Sphinx’s riddles,
A zombie on the prowl,
Banshees shrieking endlessly
And manticores that howl.

Chorus: You left me, and a Raven
Has whispered ‘Nevermore!’
So now I’ll send my Furies
to you

to your door
to your door
to your door

Watch out! I’ll send my monsters to your door.
Watch out! I’ll send my monsters to your door.

Watch out!
I’ll send my monsters . . .
to your . . .
door . . . [maniacal laughter]

And of course I’ve now written many published stories featuring monsters of various kinds, from ghosts, zombies and evil dolls to nanotech human-robot hybrids and giant Godzilla-like behemoths.

So what is a monster? The OED defines a monster as “a mythical creature which is part animal and part human, or combines elements of two or more animal forms, and is frequently of great size and ferocious appearance. Later, more generally: any imaginary creature that is large, ugly, and frightening.” In fact the word comes from the Latin mōnstrum meaning a portent, a prodigy, a marvel — and was originally applied to disfigured humans, especially those who deviated genetically from the “norm” (as in carnival “freaks”). We stare at them in wonder because they are different. Yet they are human as well. It seems unnatural.

On the other hand, the portent part of the definition conveys the idea that a monster can be a warning against spiritual corruption, its monstrosity a physical reflection of moral deviance (not necessarily in the individual but in society itself). When humanity does the wrong thing, monstrosity results. The dead return as vengeful corpses to right wrongs perpetrated against them, the Rhedosaur and other more mutated monsters are awakened and/or created via the unethical use of science, Frankenstein’s creature is born as a violation of God’s creative prerogative, greed and vanity bring King Kong to New York where the great ape goes on a rampage, traveling the length of the Amazon River and interfering with the age-old creature that lives there may release the Black Lagoon’s oldest inhabitant upon us, etc. In all these cases, monsters are reflections on our behaviour. They are, in that sense, about us.

As a deviation from the natural order of things, though, monstrosity is rather subjective. Is a sentient reptilian alien with four arms a monster? Not necessarily. Perhaps it is if we bring it to Earth and it goes on a killing spree. But on Barsoom it might be a comrade. Sometimes rejection or mistreatment is what turns a creature into a monster. Other times it’s just a plain, straight-out, ill-tempered menace.

As a writer I continue to love monsters. Their metaphorical use is endless, they offer the possibility of amazing stories, they can frighten, fill us with awe and wonder, provoke thought and offer the most imaginative fun you can have without actually injecting illegal substances.

What are they? They are the Other.

Where do they dwell? In us.

Embrace them. They won’t bite your head off.

[maniacal laughter]

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4 Comments

Filed under Article, Monster Awareness Month, Promo

4 responses to “Where Monsters Dwell

  1. Pingback: Undead Backbrain » Blog Archive » Monster Awareness Month is on now!

  2. Just a quick note to say thanks for a great article, Robert and the image sparked something that I’d completely forgotten about – I read this comic, this specific issue, back in the late 70s.

    I’ve blogged about it here – http://markwestwriter.blogspot.com/2011/02/nostalgia-and-monsters.html

    Thanks again!

  3. Robert Hood

    Thanks, Mark. I love the fact that you could find a copy of the comic so quickly!

  4. Pingback: Daikaiju and Mr. Hood | Monster Awareness Month

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