A Monster History

The term ‘monster’ is one that brings about quite a mixed reaction to people depending on the context in which it is said. It can be seen to describe a certain character such as in the theme of horror where Monsters here include include ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ or a Vampire such as ‘Dracula.’ It is a term that is sometimes used to describe a horrific person, such as when you say man or monster? The word ‘Monster’ has quite a diverse history.

Monsters in Europe

Monsters in Europe are originally seen as creatures with a somewhat unnatural or supernatural element to them. Many ancient mythologies such as Greece would discuss monsters such as harpies (half bird half women creatures), that would harass people by stealing their food. These ideas of monsters would develop into creatures of folklore and fiction, particularly the Gothic fiction genre that was prevalent throughout the Victorian age. The story of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is one example. Indeed, the idea of monster would take on a role as a seductive, but dangerous supernatural being in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dracula seemed to represent the dangers of uncontrolled sexuality, a subject that would have been frowned upon by the status quo at the time. It would seem that monsters in Europe would come to represent what was considered taboo at the time and perhaps was a way for society to represent this without having to show a person as responsible.

Monsters in Japan

On the other side of the coin, Monsters have a different perception in Japan. Whilst it is true that there are monsters such as Godzilla who terrorize people. Japan has a much more diverse attitude to what ‘monsters’ are and have often been seen as friendly creatures. The Hakutaku ‘monster’ is considered a wise ox-like creature that is seen as a sign of good luck. Further, the Shōjō are creatures that are jolly and enjoy the finer things in life. The Japanese view monsters as supernatural beings that symbolise both good and bad. Further, many Japanese cartoons that are targeted at children have shown monsters in a heroic light some examples being: Pocket Monsters (Pokemon in the west), My Neighbour Totoro and Digimon to name but three. Perhaps, the west has taken some inspiration from these with such characters as Shrek.

Painting of Hakutaku 'Monster'
Painting of Hakutaku ‘Monster’

Contemporary Monsters

Monsters today are often used to describe controversial people such as dictators giving some distance to their humanness. The term monster in this context suggests that horrific acts could not be purported by a man, but rather a monster. There is often stories in tabloid newspapers describing a killer as a “monster” or becoming a “monster” it is almost as if the term monster now means someone losing their humanity, and becoming a vicious beast.

What is your view on what a monster is? Let us know in the comments below.

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