Thursday, October 01, 2009

Halloween Geography: Incomplete and Way Too Short List of Geographical Development of Monsters

During October Catholicgauze likes to have a little fun and wright Halloween-related posts. This is not really a series and I do not know how many I will write or repost this month.

The nature, identity, and traits of monsters have changed over time. One element that has only partially been examined is the geographical location of monsters in stories. By examining various cultural stages of developments one realizes there is a correlation with where monsters are found. This list is by no means complete but is based on my cultural geographic observations and readings of myths.

Barbarian, Rural (Semi-civilized) Society: As Western Europe festered in the Dark Ages and the outskirts of still bright Eastern Europe were Roman Byzantine in name only, a new geographic relationship with monsters began. Society was settled and so was the monster. Humans had conquered their own little patch of territory but where the gates ended the terrifying wild world began. The story Beowulf tells how the Danish barbarian king’s settlement was attacked by its neighbors which were a demon, the demon’s mother, and a dragon. Meanwhile, Adobe-dwelling Indians in the American Southwest had stories of skinwalkers, people who left their villages but lived nearby to turn into flesh-eating monsters.

From Dark Age to Modern Age: As cultures conquered the nature of their homes monsters were pushed to the edges of the map. "Here be monsters" was used term on maps. It was easy to dismiss monsters at home but the frequent arrival of descriptions of places like Arabia, Africa, China and elsewhere led to even scientific minds to accept the possibility of monsters still existing in far off lands. Thomas Jefferson himself wondered what sort of animals would be found by Lewis and Clark on their journey through the poorly documented American Interior.

Early Globalization: The first truly global culture was Victorian England. Nature was firmly conquered on Great Britain and local monster stories faded away expect in the most rural areas. What came into being was the idea of a foreign monster invasion. This mirrors the rise in invasion literature which was popular in the time. Also, there were still black/blank spaces on the map which allowed people’s supposedly scientific mind to run wild with all sorts of imaginative ideas, including monsters. The Lost World is a great example of the scientific world allowing itself to believe in blank spots where monsters could exist. However, the early globalization monster is best personified by Dracula. A foreign creature from the dark spot of Transylvania utilized the global system to invade England itself, establish itself in the English system, and run amock.

Modern, Urban Cultures: Modern cultures have treated monsters in two different ways: by demonisterifying the monsters and by pushing the creatures to the outer most limits. Instead of the classic monsters like werewolves and vampires we have moody teenagers ala CW, Twilight, and their related ilk. What remains are extraterrestrials and other cosmic being that live in no particular place, at least in the physical sense. That was not always true as the first extraterrestrials were claimed by the contactees to be from nearby places like Venus, the Moon, and Mars. However, as probes become better aliens were forced off these planets and implanted in our minds to space’s outer most rim and beyond. Besides aliens there are inter-dimensional beings of various sorts like shadow men who can pop in and out of our universe.

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