We love monsters. The classics, the new favorites, even those still locked in our closets or hiding beneath our beds. Why this infatuation? What is it about monsters that makes us seek them out to prove they exist? In this chapter of ORIGINS we scrape the tip of the iceberg about the monsters we fan over and why.
ORIGINS is written and produced by award-winning author Jaimie Engle.
Monsters is a word that encompasses anything scary. They touch every culture, religion, and time always with the same results: fear and awe. We fear monsters, be it the ones we can’t define like Big Foot and Lockness, larger than life types like Godzilla or King Kong, or those humans whose behavior is so cruel, so gruesome they can only be described by that one word. This podcast, of course, will focus on the first two types even though the third can be the most chilling. What are the ORIGINS of monsters?
In ancient times, the monsters were hybrid human/animals such as those from classic mythology to include the centaur, sphinx, minotaur, chimera, cockatrice (mentioned in Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light, I might add), the griffin, manticore, siren, and even dragons who were a combination of reptilian features with those of birds. Some say monsters are the result of the wrath of God, and there may be a bit of truth in that since the book of Revelation does mention “locusts” with human faces, women’s hair, and lions’ teeth, while other books describe dragons, leviathan, and bohemeth. Can the blame be shifted to fossils misfiled under mythical labels like the unicorn really being the remains of a narwhal? Or is this justification another way we try and pretend what’s out there really isn’t out there at all?
In Beowulf, Grendal is described as being of the line of creatures descended from Cain predicted to fight humanity with the antichrist during the Apocalypse. I have never heard that description of this pagan derived story, but love the monster just the same. Medieval witch hunts brought new focus on demons and witches instead of mythological monsters who couldn’t be seen. Demons could take on the form of a human as could a witch. Each were easy claims to lay upon someone who didn’t fit into society or did things in a peculiar manner. Unlike the odd physical forms of the monsters of old, demons and witches could blend right in.
In more recent history, scam artists have played upon our fear of monsters to their pockets’ advantage. Creating fakes and presenting them as the real deal brings thousands of visitors who spend thousands of dollars to witness the oddity. In 1700, Charles Linnaeus discovered a fraudulent hydra in Hamburg. The seven-headed beast with the body of a snake had been pieced together like a puzzle by a skilled taxidermist, much like the Feejee Mermaid of 1843.
What blows my mind the most about these situations is the sheer passion and desire for people to see these creatures with their own eyes; the desperate need to believe these creatures are real. Why? Why do we need to believe there are monsters in our world? What peace could it possibly bring knowing creatures of such magnitude exist? Still, the need is out there. Just Google people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens or seen Big Foot or the Lockness Monster with their own eyes and scroll through page after page of accounts. Yet in all or most of the cases there is no photographic or physical proof or evidence of the claim. Again, I ask why?
Classic monsters such as werewolves, zombies, and vampires have become staple in our culture. Do we believe they are real? In a sense, I think we do. Not the Hollywood kind of Walking Dead or Teen Wolf. More the Twilight types, those who walk among us without flaunting their abilities. I don’t personally believe these monsters exist in our world. I find them fascinating. Even more fascinating are the people who swear they are vampires or werewolves themselves.
“Real Vampires” walk among us and live in places like New Orleans or Buffalo, according to my research. They don’t claim to morph into bats or live forever but do require blood of humans or animals to feel healthy, have fangs, and are nocturnal. The transformation occurs around puberty (so if you’ve already experience that joyous time of life and haven’t shifted then you’re probably not a “real vampire” I’m afraid). Apparently vampiric communities began to really take shape in the mid to late 1900s. I’m not sold on this but deep down I wish it were true. Why? I honestly have no idea.
True werewolf cases have been reported since the early 1300s, if not earlier. They have been connected to serial murders, arrested only to take on their wolf form and escape, and brought about great hunts to find and destroy these hybrid beasts. I think one of my favorite tales is of the Werewolf of Charlons also known as the Demon Tailor. In 1598, he was convicted of heinous crimes so vile that the records have been destroyed and his real name wiped clean of history. The creature would lure children into his shop and then brutally attack them, slicing their necks to kill them. He would then dress and powder them before disjointing them as a butcher cuts meat. Pretty nasty and that’s why he’s my favorite.
In today’s culture, I believe there are a handful of monsters that get the most attention. As of late, the demon Krampus has been beautifully welcomed into the lime light. I am petrified and in love with this creature as he embodies the scent of gingerbread and fear from my experience at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights in 2016. Krampus is evil, yet fair in his reasoning. His job is to punish the naughty children, one that is necessary though never pleasurable. We can’t very well have naughty children running around and getting rewarded with shiny packages, can we?
Mary Shelley brought us perhaps the most misunderstood and beautiful monsters of our time. Frankenstein is a vision of the ugly inside all of us, the desire to be the god of our existence and the failing that this decision ultimately must bring. Frankenstein isn’t evil any more than a wild animal could be called evil, but they will still both rip you to shreds if you’re left in a room alone with them.
During the 19th century, we were introduced to different mediums to deliver us new monsters. H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds shared a true to life alien invasion from a narrator who delivers the account as fact not fiction. I have the original broadcast on a record and it’s chilling. This podcast would not be complete if I didn’t mention H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. This octopus, dragon, human hybrid can be blamed for the origin of man’s subconscious anxiety. The entire mythos was concocted by this master storyteller who has been the inspiration for many other writers.
Now while these monsters are generally referred to as fictitious, there are a couple that mankind truly believes exist, namely Big Foot and the Lochness Monster.
On June 22nd, 2009, a college student drove across familiar winding backroads in New York. Trees shaded the road with their abundant leaves while the cool wind whipped through the car’s opened windows. The driver headed to the performing arts center, his mind focused on schoolwork, his class at the center, and the beautiful afternoon to which he would soon say farewell. As he topped a hill, he swerved to avoid—of all things—a shopping bag that had spilled an opened box of cereal across the asphalt. Catching his breath while correcting his vehicle, the man glanced in his rearview mirror to once again see what had caused him to swerve. But what he found surprised him. Someone or more clearly something darted out of the woods to retrieve the small bag the driver had almost flattened. His heart hammered faster. The someone was more than seven feet tall from his guess, very tall, and covered with a thick layer of what could only be described as black fur. The student tried to keep moving, tried to convince himself to just move on and get to his class, but his better judgment was beat out by his curiosity. Turning his car around on the abandoned road, the man drove back up the hill to reach the place where he’d spotted the mystery someone, who he now referred to in his mind as “the creature” for there was no way the broad, muscular shoulders of the arms he witnessed swinging through the air in exaggerated motions belonged to a simple man.
This is just one of dozens of stories where people claimed to have had a run in with the colossal humanoid known as Big Foot. My question is simple: with today’s technology, including satellite GPS and Google maps, why is it that we still have no concrete proof of Big Foot’s existence. I can believe fifty years ago that this monster was real and just unable to be caught on film. But today when everyone owns a cell phone I find it incredibly difficult to believe this monster really exists. Again, deep down I truly want to believe it’s true though.
According to the New York Post, the Loch Ness Monster is alive and well! A May 1st, 2017, sighting fans the flame of this legendary monster’s existence. Nessie, as the “adorable” monster is called, hadn’t been sighted for nearly 6 months prior to this tourist’s amazing photographic moment. Nessie’s summer sightings are the product of more tourists to the area and better weather overall. Skepticism aside, this is one cool monster, perhaps in reality a leftover dinosaur, oversized marine reptile, or just simply a myth that we wish were truth.
Monsters are so prolific and popular with a running list that seems to keep growing. I will definitely revisit this topic in a later chapter of ORIGINS because I only scraped the tip of the iceberg, which, by the way, is where the great cousin of Big Foot lives: the Yeti!
I’m Jaimie Engle, and you’ve just discovered ORIGINS.
ORIGINS is a bi-weekly podcast that shares the story behind legends and lore, where myth and science meet; written and produced by me, award-winning author Jaimie Engle of The Write Engle. If you like stories with a supernatural slant, I happen to write them. In fact, I have a new book out. It’s a collection of my horror, humor, and historical short stories titled The Toilet Papers: Places to Go, While you Go. Please follow on all social media @theWRITEengle. I follow back. As always, subscribing, liking, and sharing this podcast is your greatest compliment. Thank you. And finally, if you’d like to stick around you can hear a short story from a new friend of mine named Owl Goingback titled “Keeper of Souls” from his short story collection called Tribal Screams.
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Music by Baldassre Galuppi http://www.musopen.org