I managed to survive last night’s zombie attack. I think. I do have this scratch, and I hope it’s not a bite mark. (More)

After midnight the electricity went out. It was dark everywhere, and I was out of food, water, and matches. There’s an abandoned supermarket on the other side of the swamp, and there was a full moon out, so I decided to take a chance and cut straight through the swamp, staying off the roads so the zombies wouldn’t catch me.

I got as far as the East Blogistan Regional Library (conveniently just 50 yards from my door) when I heard something behind me. I pushed my way in and locked the door behind me.

I wasn’t sure if I was alone. It’s creepy in there all the time, but last night, there were weird noises coming from somewhere. I figured the best place to hide was in the stacks. Maybe that was a stupid idea, but somehow I figured books would help me. I crouched down, and slowly backed up, keeping my eye on the door to the stacks. But that weird noise, it stayed close to me, as though something – some one – was following me. It got louder, and I tried to figure out what could make a sound like that.

Giant squirrel? Hippopotamus?

Then a huge dark shape came flying at my head, out of nowhere, it seemed. It knocked me out. I just keeled over, flat on my face.

I don’t know how long I was unconscious. When I came to, there was a big dusty encyclopedia kind of book in front of my face. It was laid open to a page with a distinctive drawing at the top. Squirrel-like, yet not completely a squirrel.

The page read:

TYPOLOGY OF MONSTERS (OTHER THAN ZOMBIES)

• Metamorphs (The Wolfman, Jekyll and Hyde, The Incredible Hulk).
• Invaders (Body Snatchers, The Thing, Independence Day).
• Science Run Amok (Frankenstein, Godzilla, Resident Evil).
• Bad Seeds (Psycho, Halloween, The Omen).
• Supernatural Avengers (Nightmare on Elm Street, Candyman, Stir of Echoes).

This is it! I realized. If I can just manage to complete a Blogistan Polytechnic Institute Evening Focus series on Monsters, I’ll be free from this scourge of zombies and werewolves.

I started to copy down everything in the book as fast as I could (with my crayons) on the margins and blank pages of others books I could grab.

Here’s what I transcribed so far:

There’s a secret to understanding monsters and monster narratives.

We intuitively try to understand the monster by, well, figuring out the monster. What does it do, what does it want, where does it come from, how can you fight it. But with certain important exceptions, that’s the wrong approach.

The key to the monster is the non-monster in the story. Everything the narrative text wants to tell you about the monster is embedded in the main human character(s) in the text.

Who loves the wolfman in his human form? What is the fear, want, or need behind their relationship?

Consider Larry Talbot (the man played by Lon Chaney Jr. in the original Wolfman movie) from the point of view of the female lead, Gwen Conliffe. In that perspective, it doesn’t take a psychologist long to diagnose a case of (cliched) movie maidenhood fear. The savage aspect of the man will ravage the innocent virgin, oh my!

Interesting metamorph monster narratives can be sorted into two main types, depending on whether the focus is on the inner torment of the monster/human, or the tragic dilemma of those in relationship to the monster/human.

Monster analysis then becomes much like Bruno Bettelheim’s dissection of classic fairy tales. We can usually find (or invent) a plausible psychological development need for the monster, how it relocates an inner psychic struggle into an externalized narrative, where the conflict can be safely expressed, witnessed, learned, and eventually internalized.

Gwen will learn to deal with the savageness of wolfish men? Bruce Banner (of Incredible Hulk) learns about managing his dark side? Dr. Jekyll has to admit to his repressed Mr. Hyde?

Well, we didn’t say these insights would all be profound. The point is that these close, personal monster narratives point to the psychic struggle of the human protagonists. The real monster is internal, and the text uses the narrative of the individual to express something about what it means to be human.

Aliens and invader monster narratives function at a larger, social level. The monster typically reflects an essentially monstrous aspect of the society that it menaces.

What kind of a social culture is depicted in Invasion of the Body Snatchers? The protagonists are already seen as independent outsiders of a sort, struggling with individuation in the face of a culture that demands certain norms of conformity. And lo, the monstrosity of the pod people is their blase sameness and aggressive sublimation of individual souls.

Monsters that threaten society depict that society’s worst fears, or worst crimes. In this theory of monster narratives, you would look closely at what the primary human protagonists believe or do in order to understand the power and genesis of the monster. Too much trust in science and technology? The monster is technology or science run amok, and will only be defeated by more natural, human-scale defenses.

While the most vivid and sharply defined original iterations of movie monsters stem mostly from classic films of the mid-20th century, they reappear again and again, decade after decade, in new versions that update the monster by updating the social context.

When I was just out of college, living on my own for the first time in a city, I saw An American Werewolf in London. For no apparent good reason, I became afraid to go out at night in Minneapolis. On Halloween, I agreed to meet friends in the middle of a relatively dark park at dusk. I went, but couldn’t stay, it was too frightening. Something about that movie. The protagonist was my age, in a similar life situation. The rational part of me knows that some primal fear or anxiety I had got triggered by that movie, but I never wanted to dig into myself, with or without a psychotherapist, to figure it out. I got over it. I think. I still have that bite mark.

So, what are you afraid of?