Monsters & Literature

Here’s your Independence Day treat.  Don’t eat it too fast, it’ll make you sick.

Okay, now I’ve already told you about how all music is better when played faster and louder, well here is the next step in our artistic journey: all art and entertainment is better if it also includes monsters. Although this construct is self evident, I’ll provide a few examples along the way just to prove it. Also we will get into the unfortunate misuse and overuse of monsters in literature.

Moby DickIn prior literary times it wasn’t common to feature monsters in literature.  We would get the occasional witch or demon but no real monster stuff up until the Romantic and Victorian eras.  Then we got real monster stuff like Frankenstein and Dracula.  However these were all considered brown wrapper books, back of the store stuff for the most part.  Who really got monsters started into literature was Herman Melville.  Melville wrote a lot of stuff:  Typee, Oomu, and a story about a lazy guy who doesn’t want to work, crap nobody reads anymore and crap nobody read back then either.  Then he came up with a brilliant idea, write the same kind of book but include monsters in it:  man-eating whales and giant squid.  Well you know the rest of the story.  They couldn’t keep Moby Dick; on the shelves even though it was longer than a Stephen King novel. Now you might think a whale is no big deal but think about the novelty in the 19th century, nobody had real monsters in novels or stories, so a giant, man-eating, toothed, sperm (he, he) whale was a big deal. Sure it’s dated now but so’s your mother. Peter Benchley even stole it in the modern era and made it a crumby shark for heavens sake, so you can’t say it’s that dated.

SquidWell monsters in literature went out of favor for awhile while guys like William James and Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope (he, he) wrote a lot of boring books that nobody reads anymore, even when they’re assigned in school. Kids just crib it from some Ivory-Merchant movie, or Cliff’s Notes, or Wikipedia now. And it’s no wonder, these books are dead boring and rarely feature even the occasional witch, demon, or even body snatcher (They aren’t very well written either.).

So a couple of years ago (2009) there was a spate of “literary” (= boring) novels that got jazzed up with the addition of monsters. This was generally a good thing. It all started with Jane Austen’s dreary book of marriage foibles entitled Pride and Prejudice. Now Ms. Austen got one thing right: alliteration in titles, but that’s about all she had worth reading. Then along came the eminently talented Seth Grahame-Smith with the genesis of how to make the 19th century “parlor” novel tolerable: add monsters. We therefore got Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I cannot describe how excited I was on first hearing about this “novel” artifice. Sadly the execution was not as grand as I had hoped it would be. Don’t get me wrong, this was far better than the dreadful zombie-less version of P&P but it wasn’t as good as it could have been, hence the disappointment (What’s new?). The problem was the zombie sequences were all bolted on, not made integral to, the plot of marrying off the ugly and fat Bennett daughters. There were lively scenes of zombie ninja slaughter interspersed but it never really affected the main characters in any lasting way. Now for a monster insertion into a piece of writing, film, or television (we’ll leave out live theater for the obvious reasons), to be realistic it has to engage the major storyline and affect at least some of the main characters. Just having zombie fight sequences inserted with everyone else living happily ever after is never gonna wash.

PrideandPrejudiceandZombiesCoverHere’s how I would have done it, and done it right. I would have had at least one of the girls get bitten by the “unmentionables.” Then the action could have figured on how the daughter would have to be married off before the “affliction” became obvious to the suitor. See how much better that would have been. Alternatively you could have Elizabeth being bitten but then engaging in a mad race with Mrs. Bennett to get the other sisters married off before the curse sets in on her. Another angle could be to have the stricken Elizabeth, summoning her last ounce of humanity, pimping Darcy off on a less worthy but also less undead débutante. Ah, I was born to be an editor or producer.

Anyway this started a wave of updated and improved “classics” starting with the marvelous Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (much better alliterative title than the clumsy P&P&Z). A lot of my hoity-toity (ex)writer friends referred to these pastiches as “abominations.” Needless to say we crossed them off the invitation list.

Well of course things got out of hand like they always do.  Pretty soon we had Android Karenina and similar dreck.  An android is not a proper monster, it’s just a robot. Then we had the spate of historico-literary punch-ups like Queen Victoria Demon Hunter all of which were blatant fakes except for the excellent Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter which was based on actual suppressed federal documents. I think FEMA or the Trilateral Commission were behind the suppression. Now the entire sub-genre of monster enhanced classics has waned from both overexposure but also from the fact that the literary novels left to insert monsters in are so bad that even a monster won’t save them.

There you have it:  add monster, shaken not stirred.

television

Next time I’ll tell you how the inclusion of television, broadcast or cable, can enhance anything from sex to nature walks.

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One thought on “Monsters & Literature

  1. I see a lot of you used the holiday (non-US, ie foreigners, don’t count) to improve yourselves but seriously more of you should be using your work time to view this (see “Dminus”) since your free time is too precious to waste here unless you’re already watching reality TV or MTV. I’ll see if I can work on that TV post or maybe I’ll get inspired by some inane current event. By the way it’s “safe deposit box” not “safety deposit box.” I’m just here to help.

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