Being a horror writer, and one who writes novels about zombies, demons and living dead creatures, I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the word monster and all that this loaded term implies. Do I have a favorite monster? I’m not sure I have a specific one. Do you? Does anyone? An answer to this question, in my opinion, would reveal a lot more about the person than it does about their answer, and being a horror writer, it goes to the heart of what I’m trying to accomplish—to scare the living wits out of you!
Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. There are funny monsters, scary monsters, real and imagined ones, and monsters disguised as everyday people. Where one person may love the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street, another may admire Hannibal Lector or Tony Soprano. But what if you picked Charles Mansion? Or John Wayne Gacy? How about Frankenstein or Freddie Kruger? Whichever one a person chooses tells a great deal about their deepest fears and insecurities. And these are the fears we writers try to incorporate into our fiction.
Take Shelly’s Frankenstein as the prototypical monster, even though it’s not his given name in the novel. Hoping to create a beautiful physical being, Victor Frankenstein becomes mortified by what he’s made. He’s so ashamed that he refers to his creation only in vague, monstrous terms, never once giving him a proper name. But Shelly’s creation is not initially a monster. In fact, he is a highly intelligent and sensitive being, given to good deeds and accomplishments if treated with respect. But because his creator has bitterly rejected him, even refusing to give him a mate, the monster-in-waiting fulfills his maker’s prophecy, and in the end, turns into the feared monster he was destined to become.
Can a computer be a monster? In 2001: Space Odyssey, the computer, HAL 9000, tells one of the crewmembers that the 9000 computer model “is foolproof and incapable of error.” Engineered by humans, HAL becomes highly suspicious of the crewmembers, believing that they are conspiring against him to undermine the mission that he has been programmed to fulfill. He begins to covertly undermine their efforts by killing off each crewmember and taking control of the craft. In seeking to create perfection, the humans who created HAL devised an AI monster modeled in mankind’s own image, and Hal in the end becomes a product of our own fears and insecurities. Even as he is being disabled by the last living crewmember, HAL is reduced to begging for his life.
I don’t like real monsters, as there is enough cruelty in this world to go around. But I do find that the best fictional monsters reflect upon the human condition and illuminate our most base, primal fears. Sometimes, when look into the murky depths of our souls, we see that monster smiling up at us and beseeching us to set it free. And we must forcefully beat it down until it goes into hiding, whimpering in agony until the next time it rises up. These demons reside in the darkest corners of our soul, waiting patiently to emerge and take over our thoughts and actions. As authors, we attempt to purge these internal demons through our writing, letting them spill onto the page until they’re cast out of our psyche. It is why I find the monsters within myself the scariest and most compelling monsters of them all. It is the reason I write about them.
Joseph Souza is the author of many award-winning short stories and essays. He graduated from Northeastern University and grew up near Boston. THE REAWAKENING is his debut horror novel and the first in THE LIVING DEAD SERIES. DARPOCALYPSE, BOOK 2, is due out 2/13 and UNDERTONE, BOOK 3 TBA. All three novels published by PERMUTED PRESS.
He lives near Portland, Maine with his wife and two children and enjoys running, cooking and playing golf when not writing.
Joseph can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephsouza3. You can also visit his website to read more about Joseph as well read reviews and an excerpt of THE REAWAKENING at rwww.josephsouza.net.