More on Monsters

I make no attempt to hide how much I love monsters. My collection of Daleks is bigger than my collection of Tardis’. I call myself Forsaken in Warcraft and am dedicated to the Dark Lady (crazy zombie lady wants to kill all of the living – the usual). Part of this blog post was an assignment I did for uni, where I had a lot of fun in reading all about how we create monsters. This will be primarily on books, but also a few movies and TV too. Some of this touches on what I want to write in my thesis next year too!Nosferatu

Nosferatu, my little fluffy buddy from Nebraska (protector of the coffee mug).

In fantasy* especially, the differences between good and evil are particularly stark and this binary is usually played out between hero and monster/monstrous entity.runty

What is a monster/monstrous?

What is a monster or is monstrous are fluid descriptors. In general, the monster/monstrous is Other and ‘unlike us’. It is made of difference. The monster is the physical form and not human. Humans, however, can have monstrous aspects, which could be cultural, political, racial, economic or sexual differences. The descriptor of ‘monstrous’ is a process of alterity. These are not strict boundaries – through the process of dehumanising the monstrous human, their deviance can be inscribed upon their body (e.g. historically, this would be something like saying an enemy had a deformed body). In some cases, the monster can be the hero of a text, but the villain is usually dehumanised by their evil actions, thoughts or beliefs.

onyxia

Narrative Techniques

Metaphoric mode

Fantasy is a metaphoric mode, using techniques like indirection, parallel and allegory to comment on contemporary social practice. The theories of monsters also usually focus on the representational aspect. The monster/monstrous can stand for something repressed, a specific social and historical anxiety, or fear of the unknown. Textually, there is usually an emphasis on physicality (as well as inscribing deviance, it can be even a glance, “eyes as unforgiving as a snake” etc). The monster/monstrous itself can be a form of authority, and representing a negative ideology (the opposite to the usual values, morals, beliefs of a society – e.g. the monster could say that it is okay to kill for one’s own pleasure or power gain). The goal of the monster/monstrous is usually to seduce the hero to the dark side or kill them. The hero cannot be ignored. Often, the main character has a special relationship to the monster – particularly if it is a singular monster/monstrous** – or the hero is somehow special to them (particularly in paranormal romance).

Recommended Fiction

  • of the dead movie series, Romero (very clearly metaphoric of many anxieties – Romero’s zombie movies have been analysed many times)
  • Many dystopias are metaphoric – the very nature of the genre is that it takes what we have in society now to the extremes and extrapolates the change in human nature. The meaning of the genre is also to be a warning.
  • Witches of Eileanan series by Kate Forsyth
  • The Belgariad & Malloreon series by David Eddings
  • Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
  • Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris or True Blood tv series

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Focalisation/Point of View

While third person narration is more familiar in larger fantasy sagas, the monster/monstrous rarely gets a word in edgewise. Usually if they do get their own perspective, this is for dramatic effect so that you the reader can see something bad coming, but the good guys have no idea. However, in works such as dystopias and paranormal romances, limited first person is more typical. It can happen in these genres that the monsters (not monstrous entities) become heroes, romantic interests and sometimes even focalisers. It is often said that the role of limited first person narration is to get the reader on their side, so this narrative strategy at once defamiliarises the reader through having such a strange protagonist, at the same time as making them more sympathetic to the reader (Note: This is what I’m actually going to explore in my thesis).

Recommended Fiction

  • Dust by Joan Frances Turner
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
  • Generation Dead (book #1 in a series) by Daniel Waters
  • Dearly Departed (#1 in a series) by Lia Habel
  • My Life as a White Trash Zombie (book #1 in a series)by Diana Rowland
  • Endless vampire books – but the good ones are Evernight (Book #1 in series) by Claudia Gray and Vampire Academy (book #1 in series) by Richelle Mead and Blue Blues (book #1 in series) by Melissa de la Cruz.

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jenny

A thought on disembodied monsters

Something this makes me consider is if something disembodied can be a monster or monstrous, for example, an extremely repressive society, or certain technologies. It becomes almost an entity in itself where it is not one person alone or one sub-human race alone that is the problem, but something incredibly integral to how life is lived. Often in science fiction and YA, a dystopia comes about because something was once seen as progressive. Humans strive for utopia, and that striving for progress in itself becomes the horrific dystopia. Technology and ideas become threatening to the very stability of the world. You hear it now, the internet is softening our minds, we are losing our inner humanity through the progress of wearable (or implantable) technology. That fear comes across in books as well. Does that mean it is a monster or monstrous?

Recommended Fiction

  • Feed by M T Anderson
  • Uglies (series) by Scott Westerfeld
  • The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins
  • Unwind by Neal Stephenson

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mouse

A blurring of boundaries – Hero or Villain?

Something which particularly strikes at me are ambiguous heroes/villains. It could be they were perceived one way before and now are the other, or they have changed over the series and become greater/worse than who they were. I think this is particularly stark in zombie stories such as The Walking Dead, where the enemy is not so much the zombies but other humans. The things the group needs to do to stay alive are utterly barbaric, but that is survival. In the Flesh is about how a cure was created for zombies, to bring them back to who they were before and how society deals with that. This is also dealt with in a lot of zombie romance texts. In fantasy, it could be that a blackhearted villain is not really evil, but coerced by others or convinced that it is the best thing because the alternatives are worse.

Recommended Fiction

  • The Walking Dead comics and tv show
  • Quiver by Jason Fischer
  • In the Flesh tv series
  • Go re-read the recommended fiction section under Focalisation/Point of View

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*For some reason, some works tend to use fantasy as an overall term that also extends to science fiction and horror – no idea why they don’t just use speculative fiction.

** Examples of archetypes: Singular Monster: The dark lord, the witch. Singular Monstrous: The tyrant, the evil step-mother. Monsters: Vampires, demons, zombies, werewolves. Monstrous many: aspects of society e.g. repression, technology etc.

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Recommended Reading

  • Applebaum, Noga. Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People. New York: Routledge. 2010. Print.
  • Bishop, Kyle W. American Zombie Gothic. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Botting, Fred. Limits of Horror: Technology, bodies, Gothic. New York: Manchester University Press. 2008. Print.
  • Cohen, Jeffrey J. Monster Culture (Seven Theses). Monster Culture: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1996. Print.
  • Levina, Marina and Diem-My T. Bui, ed.s  Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader New York: Bloomsbury. 2013. Print.
  • Riley, Brendan. “Zombie People”. Triumph of the Walking Dead: Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic on page and screen. Ed James Lowder. Dallas: Banbella Books, 2011. 82-97. eBook.
  • Stephens, John. Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction. New York: Longman. 1992. Print.
  • Trites, Roberta S. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature. Iowa: University of Iowa Press. 2000. Print.
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Young Adult Lit and Dystopia

I’m currently working on a few assignments and thought, hey, why not just write up some thoughts here on it for easy access.

One of my projects this semester is YA science fiction, and the depictions of technology in those texts, and how the texts perpetuate the liberal humanist self and why that’s problematic. I’m trying to work it into one cohesive idea and a real question. This will be looked at mostly with Feed by M T Anderson and Uglies (book 1) by Scott Westerfeld (great books! Go buy them from your local indie store).

Firstly, I need a reason as to why I was choosing these books in particular:

  • Both texts establish the technological world and future dystopian society as completely ordinary. For the narrators, there are no memories of how society or humanity used to be.
  • The dominant institutions do not offer ways in which to resist. To be without this technology is equivalent to not existing. Rejecting the mainstream is not just alienating, but dangerous.
  • The main characters are faced with the challenge of freeing themselves from a repressive system and thus isolating themselves from the majority, or to continue in a world in which they know to be a mere illusion.

Of course, after my proposal, I read Braithwaite’s article, which examines the narrative functions of post-disaster fiction, and defines three main sub-genres (of which a text can have one or combine all three styles). The texts I’m looking at are very much social order texts. As with my above criteria, the narrator has no personal experience of pre-disaster life. The perceived disaster is brought about by attempts at improving life, and the struggle is against restrictive and controlling societies.

One of the things I love about these books is how the world to Titus and Tally in the beginning isn’t dystopian at all. There’s a whole technological paradise awaiting them. The thing that marks these stories as disaster is how the technology has transformed and undermined humanity, from our perspective. Their past is our present, and our present is stupid, wasteful and limited to their present. In Uglies, you have the decaying Rusty Ruins: “On school trips, the teachers always made the Rusties out to be so stupid. You almost couldn’t believe people lived like this, burning trees to clear land, burning oil for heat and power, setting the atmosphere on fire with their weapons”. In Feed, you have the character of Violet’s dad who still holds to proper English and ‘old’ languages, unlike Titus and his friends (think about the outrage of internet speak, or whatever you want to call it, where it’s all ‘totes’ and ‘adorbs’ and ‘OMG’). One of the more startling points for me was when Titus is describing School (TM) as to how it didn’t teach anything before, but now it’s run by corporations which is “pretty brag”.

In these social order texts, the power structures of the dystopian society are called into question by the narrator (and/or friends). The idea of the young adult rebelling against authority isn’t unique to this subgenre of course, although it might be more extreme in these situations. The young adult, of course, is the hero, a hope for societal wide change. The thing that strikes me as weird is that technology itself is almost an enemy, particularly in Feed. Again, nothing new in science fiction (or horror!), but it’s strange that, for books aiming at an audience of ‘digital natives’, technology is demonised. This is what I will explore further in the next blog, and then after that I’ll bring it all together with a post on posthumanity.

 

Recommended Reading

  • Braithwaite, Elizabeth. “Post-disaster Fiction for Young Adults : Some Trends and Variations.” Papers 20.1 (2010): 5–19. Print.
  • Kennon, Patricia. “‘ Belonging ’ in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction : New Communities Created by Children.” Papers 15:2 (2005) 40-49. Print.
  • Ball, Jonathan. “Young Adult Science Fiction as a Socially Conservative Genre.” Jeunesse: Young people, texts, cultures 3.2 (2011): 162–174. Print.