Friday, October 24, 2014

Monster Love by Robert Dunbar, editor of Dark Forest


We have a seasonal post from Robert Dunbar that celebrates the upcoming holiday. Yes boys and girls, it’s almost Halloween.

And don’t we all love something a bit spooky this time of year? But some of us have a hankering for a bit more and Robert Dunbar is one of those special people.

Here he shares with us his imaginings in this post. It’s aptly called Monster Love!

Forget your favorite movie star or sports figure. What monster did you identify with as a child? Maybe we need a stronger word than “identify.”

What monster suggested your secret other self?

Go on. You can tell us. No one will judge. (Well, if it’s The Blob, some of us might get a little judgy.) Choices like this can prove so revealing. Growing up, we all invested countless hours in watching old horror movies on television, despite how much our parents complained. It’s only natural that we felt more affinity with some creatures than others, only natural that they flapped and crawled and howled through our dreams. Half the little boys I knew wanted to be Dracula when they grew up, mostly so they could bite girls, but quite a few seemed instead to go through a Frankenstein stage in their teens, lumbering about and appalling everyone. A Wolfman phase could be even more problematical. (“I can’t remember a thing about last night.” Oh please.) I can’t imagine what little girls fixated on. Surely no one truly yearned to be The Astounding She-Creature or Bride of the Gorilla.

And it wasn’t just movies. As a kid, I could never warm to any of those wholesome novels grownups were forever trying to foist on me. So irritating. (“Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar” was my childhood mantra, I swear.) Remember those books? The ones they approved of?

Dark Forest edited by Robert Dunbar


They always seemed to involve a courageous pony, or the character-building hardship of life on the tundra, or plucky drummer boys who save the platoon. Even then, I could barely conceal my contempt.

I knew what I wanted. Where were the monsters? Where was the gloom? (Okay, so I thought of it as gloomth.) I missed the considerations of mortality and suffering, loneliness and decay. So I might not have been the most cheerful of children – I doubt I was the only one around who preferred moonlight to sunshine. Maybe we’re a different breed of people, the monster lovers. Perhaps we’re somehow innately perverse. Maybe we’re just braver.

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.” ~ Werner Herzog

So many of us still yearn for things that cry on the moors. Such devotion. Over the years, how many other romances have endured this way? Not that we approved of them, all those bloodthirsty fiends, but we understood them. They were in us. Even as adults, we continue to adore our abominations, the cherished fears, the intimate horrors. Admit it. We need them, need our monsters. I believe it’s about control… or at least about the promise of control. The world can be a terrifying place. Complicated. Dangerous. And it only grows more so as our understanding of it deepens. Even now, isn’t it comforting to imagine that the forces of evil could be thwarted with a handful of wolfsbane? We require that illusion of safety. There is comfort in the thought. And we need comforting.

Never forget that personal demons may have as much to do with secret desires as with secret fears. All those things we’re not supposed to want…

“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.” ~ Francisco de Goya

So we cling to our phobic passions. Monolithic corporations may be bent on destroying the planet, but at least we know how to combat vampires and witches. Because we all need to believe that virtue can redeem us, that the world could be saved by courage and love. How else can we carry on?

There’s nothing radical in this: know the enemy constitutes ancient wisdom. Horror has always played a vital part in our inner lives, especially in that it enables us to explore the deepest and least understood parts of ourselves, a process Carl Jung referred to as “owning your shadow.” Such a delicious phrase. As though by assigning a name to the beast, we gain some measure of power over it.

“Where there is a monster, there is a miracle.” ~ Ogden Nash

This is what writers do. We create myths. We try to make sense of life (and death). We reassure. And legends give us strength, even new ones.

They were all new once.

Consider the classics of the genre. Doctor Frankenstein – the ultimate deadbeat dad – abandoned his noble yet inhuman creation, dooming it to darkness. The monster groped, lonely and unloved, struggling to find some light in its own soul. How many of us could relate too well? And Dracula – that corrupting foreign influence – had to be stopped at the border at all costs. Surely the women characters were better off beheaded than awakened to that hideous lust. (Or so the male characters believed.) Those are the two main icons of course: Frankenstein and Dracula. It’s difficult even to imagine books that have had as much impact on our culture. I sometimes think that what seethes in those novels is nothing less than all of life and history and philosophy. And, yes, a case could be made for including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which brings sociology and psychology into the mix.

It’s a rich brew, horror.

Here, let me fill your glass.

(Feel anything yet?)

So support your local monsters. They provide an important service. Who would we be without them?

Robert Dunbar is a playwright, has written for radio, television and theater and is the author of the novels The Pines, The Shore, Willy and Wood, as well as a short story collection Martyrs & Monsters. He is also the editor at Uninvited Books and has edited several classic collections. The most recent collection of classic short stories edited by him is Dark Forest (you can link on the book’s title or the cover above for more information about the collection.)

But most importantly, in his spare time he likes to imagine himself as a professional ice skater, or possibly a trainer of tarantulas for jungle pictures. You can find out more about him on his website and blog, Goodreads (as well as his wonderful and accessible group there – Literary Horror), Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve read three of Robert’s books, which says a lot. He writes tasteful horror that will appeal to anyone who enjoys a literary aspect to their scary reads. To see my reviews of each link on the book’s title below.



Anonymous said...

I don't think I related to any monsters growing up. I was a girl (well still am) born in 1965 and I don't remember any female horror characters ... I did always want to be a witch though ... To be capable of magic, flying and transforming ...

Unknown said...

Hi oursacredbreath -
There are not as many female monsters out there as male. Which is a very sad fact.

But I do think a witch could qualify. Especially if one is to wish an evil spell on someone or something. I think most of us are guilty of that.

I personally had fantasies of being the Bride of Frankenstein, or transforming into a vampire from a bite from Dracula. And yes definitely the witch.

Thank you for sharing!

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