Monsters of Our Own Design
I am taking a short sabbatical so to speak as I wrap up my final semester in school. Don’t dismay I have enlisted some fantastic bloggers to stand in my place. I hope that you find them just as enlightening and entertaining as I have. The first of my guest bloggers is Nic Casey.
So just who is Nic? Nic is a geek dad, a professional nerd, and a pop culture junkie. He is drawn to any conversation about music, movies, theater, architecture, comics, and theology. You can follow his thoughts about parenthood, corporate life, and the intersection between faith and pop culture at his blog, The Faithful Geek. You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram.
Monsters of Our Own Design
At a young age, I was drawn to mysterious topics from urban legends to cryptozoology. The subject of UFOs and aliens dominated a major writing project for school when I was ten. Even with my rational mind admitting a scientific explanation to Bigfoot sightings and Bermuda Triangle disappearances, I was still fascinated by the power of a story to influence and captivate so many people.
That interest of mine expanded as I got older. It began to include more than just mythological and pseudo-scientific elements. I began looking at the monsters of classic literature and soon found joy in paranormal and supernatural fiction. By the time I was in junior high, I was reading works from popular authors who I believed had mastered the art of suspense: Michael Crichton, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz. I spent my high school years sneaking into the spare room to watch episodes of the ‘X-Files‘ while my parents thought I was doing homework or asleep in bed.
My friend Tricia introduced me to horror – starting with the movie ‘Alien‘ then ‘The Exorcist‘ watching them over at her place with a small group of friends. I was hooked. There was something alluring about scary movies. Their stories were intoxicating.
But I was also a church kid. I grew up in the conservative kind of church that saw the horror genre as one that was filled with inherent evil and that good Christians should avoid such temptations. As a result, I was often torn between suffering an almost sacrilegious guilt and the excitement of momentary terror. I developed passion for a God whose love casts out fear and a hunger for the most frightening stories I could find.
Thankfully, I didn’t remain in that conflicted dichotomy for long. I quickly lost interest in movies that were only scary for the sake of being scary. I never enjoyed the movies that assumed gore and fear were interchangeable elements. I wanted a good story – one that would make me think, that would force me to learn something. Some of my favorite horror movies are those that take a truth about the human existence and wrap it up in the image of a nightmare. When I examined these kinds of stories, I discovered that they could teach in the same way that Jesus used parables.
There is a common thread that I have noticed woven between the most notable characters of horror’s books and movies. The monsters in these stories are not objects to be feared; rather they represent things we fear in ourselves. Consider a few examples.
Doctor Frankenstein is the man who made a monster. Victor Frankenstein demonstrates a singular obsession in his own capabilities. In him we find an attempt to replace God – a struggle to rely on our own power to provide everything we need or want. Much like Frankenstein, our efforts in self-reliance have disastrous results.
The Frankenstein monster shows a different pathology than its maker’s god complex. He is a beast filled with rage. This creature represents humanity’s propensity toward revenge, our anger, and our flared tempers.
Dracula is more than a novel about a Transylvanian Count’s attempt to create an undead army in England. Bram Stoker’s original tale is one of a quest for power – as are most other entries in vampire fiction. Count Dracula wants control. He is seductive and manipulative and dangerous. This template has been reused in Anne Rice’s ‘Vampire Chronicles‘, Marvel’s ‘Blade‘ comic books, the ‘Underworld‘ movies, and ‘The Twilight Saga‘. Yes, even Stephenie Meyer’s sparkly vampires reflect mankind’s consuming thirst for power.
Zombie movies show us the terrifying nature of group-think dynamics. Often, these films are either a political or social critique of opposing viewpoints – a caution against mindlessly accepting those villainized concepts. Whether it is the Nazis during the 1940’s, consumerism of the 70’s, Reaganomics of the 80’s, or the Tea Party of recent years, portraying your enemies as a zombie horde is a simple method to dismiss groups you despise as uneducated or foolish. It is easier to judge someone when you dehumanize them.
Movies and TV shows about aliens prey on our feelings of loneliness. Plugging that emptiness with the possibility that something is out there.
Ghost stories reflect our regrets of living an unfulfilled life, our fear of the unknown, and ultimately our fear of death.
Werewolves are a demonstration of our animal instincts, our lusts, our addictions, and our selfish tendency to fulfill our carnal desires.
These stories do more than entertain. In them, we see the worst of humanity embodied in an inhuman shell. When I watch these scary movies, I see a representation of the man I could be – and probably would be if I didn’t have God in my life. They are reminders of something I never want to become.
Do you have any monsters lurking around in your life? We would love to hear from you, share your thoughts in the comments below.
About Charles Johnston
Charles is a Christian, husband and father of fur-kids who shares his walk with others in hopes to help other's along the way.