So, a month ago I was posting about how amazingly gorgeous my wife was on our wedding day… You know what, she still is. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it’s only been a month, but seriously, women go out of their way to look their best on their wedding day, and for a lot of women I bet their wedding day is the best they every look in their lives. However, I would swear that my wife is as beautiful when she gets home from a 12 hour shift wearing (in her words) ‘shapeless’ scrubs as she was walking up to the alter. Now, this is not to say that her wedding dress was shapeless, or her make-up was poorly done at the wedding. Both suited her impeccably, but I think that it does say something about how amazingly beautiful my wife actually is. Anyway, I just wanted to brag for a little bit. So, enough of my sappy love life. You’re here for a story challenge. So, in case you haven’t done this challenge before, I’m going to post a picture. Your job is to write a story about what is happening in said picture. Feel free to flesh it out some, to add things to the picture (you’ll probably have to with this one), but make sure that your story is actually about the picture that I post. For example, if I post a picture of a dart competition in a bar, don’t write a story about slavers selling mermaids. If I post a picture of a sorcerer casting a spell at the top of his tower, don’t write a story about a fist-fighter competing in the ring. So, no that you’ve got a good concept of what your doing, here’s your picture. Remember, if your going to post a story here, keep it under 500 words. If you want to post a longer story on your own blog, feel free to post a link to it here:
Story Challenge of the Week
Okay, first of all, I’m sorry that I forgot to put up a picture for all of you yesterday. My weekend has been … busy. I have my last two major papers finished. One I think is pretty decent, though it definitely needs an editing run. The other one is probably not decent. Honestly, it probably needs a complete rewrite, but I just don’t have time to do that. So, I’m going to do what I can with the paper, turn it in, and hope for the best. I think my idea in it is good, but I also think that I’m trying to do too much in too little space, and a large portion of the paper isn’t really my field, which makes it difficult to be sure if I’m actually talking about relevant issues. I have three books left to read and four shorter papers left to write… well, I say shorter… Anyway, you’re here for a story challenge. So, in case you haven’t done this challenge before, I’m going to post a picture. Your job is to write a story about what is happening in said picture. Feel free to flesh it out some, to add things to the picture (you’ll probably have to with this one), but make sure that your story is actually about the picture that I post. For example, if I post a picture of a dart competition in a bar, don’t write a story about slavers selling mermaids. If I post a picture of a sorcerer casting a spell at the top of his tower, don’t write a story about a fist-fighter competing in the ring. So, no that you’ve got a good concept of what your doing, here’s your picture. Remember, if your going to post a story here, keep it under 500 words. If you want to post a longer story on your own blog, feel free to post a link to it here. So… you all know I love monsters, right:
The Monster As Hero
Hey everyone, I’m here with some sad news and then a fun post. Over the past couple of months my life has gotten really busy, and slowly but surely my motivation for writing these posts has dwindled down to almost nothing. Because of this, I’m afraid this is going to be my last post. I have too many other things occupying my time that I feel like I am not able to dedicate the time and energy these posts, and you as the readers, deserve. That being said, I want to go out with a bang so I’m writing one last post on a particular dynamic within stories that I find especially interesting: The Monster as Hero. I know I’ve written many times on how I am fascinated with villain psychology and understand the perspectives of a variety of characters. In fact, I recently wrote a series of posts about archetypal heroes and one such hero that I discussed was the tragic hero. In many ways, I think, the tragic hero and the monster as hero can be very similar archetypes. However, before we get to that, let’s begin by discussing what we mean by the monster.
To me, there are two types of monsters. Monsters by form and monsters by actions. Both of these can be heroic characters and both of them bring a unique spin on stories in their wake. Monsters by form would be similar to The Thing or The Hulk. They are typically your more classical monsters but they act in heroic ways for whatever reason. In the case of the Thing and the Hulk they are both human underneath the monster and it is this humanity that guides their actions to some extent. What I really want to spend my time dissecting is the monster by action. These are people who do monstrous, sometimes heinous things (at least from an objective perspective) and yet these characters, too, can be heroic. I think particularly of Rorschach from Watchmen for this archetype. They are the characters that have good motives but have forsaken the moralistic ideology typically seen from classical heroes. They are willing to kill or murder for the sake of the greater good. They are willing to waste a few lives here or there to save millions. Why? Because what is 10 or 20 lives in the grand scheme of things. We all insignificant mites floating around on a piece of dust in the middle of nowhere. Why should we (or they for that matter) value our lives simply because we are alive. If this seems fatalistic to you, good. You’re paying attention. These heroic characters are monsters because they view existence as unimportant. But this is also what makes them heroic. Their existence, in the grand scheme of things, is no more important than ours, and they realize this fact to the very core of their being. They recognize two distinct facts about themselves: 1) their own existence is worthless, and 2) they want their existence to have worth. They are heroic because they WANT to be heroic; they want to be remembered; they want to be significant. Because of this fatalistic desire they essentially will themselves to be heroes, or in the case of Rorschach, to continue being a hero. This is why I am fascinated with this dynamic of the Monster as Hero–the same ideology that makes them a monster in our eyes, is also what makes them a hero. This duality of existence is fascinating to me as a writer and a reader, because I don’t know how to process these characters. I want to think of them as heroes but I can’t because they do monstrous things along the way. I cannot overlook one in favor of the other and so I am left at in impasse, caught between my own ideology and that of the character I am reading.
Tobias here! First of all I want to say a hearty goodbye and thanks for all the fish to Neal. If you know what I mean, then you know what I mean. Neal’s been writing on this blog for a while now, and he’s going to be missed.
I believe that, as individuals, as friends, and as writers, each person who has contributed to this blog is irreplacable, and each is special to me in some way. That being said, having lost both Abbie and Neal to the vagaries of school and life, I find myself in need of writers to fill those positions. So, I am looking for two good writers who are capable of being, and wish to be, regular contributors to the blog. One would be posting on Thursdays only and would be alternating with me, and the other would be a floating author posting less regularly on Thursdays, Tuesdays, and possibly Sundays. I’m also looking for a philosophically minded individual to help me with the Saturday Challenges. If you are interested in any of these duties, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief introduction, bio, and writing sample. If you have any previous blogging experience that would also be good to mention :).
Story Challenge of the Week
Alright, we’re almost done with May, almost. This year is really flying by, isn’t it. Anyway, here are the rules if you need them: You must write a story of at least a hundred words, and not more than five hundred (if you want to post it as a comment – if it’s just for yourself, then it can be as long as you want). The story must be about the theme given in this post. So, if the theme I give you is Life, don’t write a story about the lord of the underworld. If the theme is War, don’t write a story about a farmer planting his crops. Themes are very broad, so it really shouldn’t be hard to stay within a given theme, but I teach, so I know that some people have trouble with this.
Your theme: Cowardly Monsters
Alright, this one is similar to the one from a few weeks ago. I want you to write about the monsters, the creatures, etc… but make them cowards. You can interpret this however you want. Enjoy!
Demons, Ghosts, and Monsters, Oh No! Part XVII: The Viking Dead
In my last post in this series I discussed the mythology, nature, and possible (or at least theorized) truth about zombies. However, while they are the most commonly used in modern media, zombies are far from my favorite undead thing. In fact, I think that zombies might just be my least favorite version of the walking dead. Zombies are slow, shambling, unintelligent, things that more often appear as servants than as true monsters. Vampires have strength, charm (sometimes), and a whole host of spectacular powers. However, the walking dead of Scandinavian mythology manage to combine some of the facets of both zombies and vampires, while bringing to the table a whole host of their own incredible powers. These undead creatures are called Draugr, or Draug, with Draugar being the plural form.
Draugar are clearly split into two general varieties, land-draug and sea-draug, though in later literature this distinction seems to disappear. Draugar apparently started out as incorporeal spirits (the word actually means ghost), but at some point in the early mythology gained corporeal bodies. These bodies came with a whole host of powers including the ability to turn into a wisp of smoke, to move through stone, to swell their bodies to enormous size, incredible strength, to curse their victims, control the weather, see the future, and to enter into dreams, along with the ability to transform into a number of different shapes including a lichen covered stone, a cat that can increase or decrease its weight, a troll, a seal, a great flayed bull, and a grey horse with a broken back. They also can be hurt by iron, but not killed by it, so the preferred method of destroying a draugr was to cut off the head, burn the head and the body, and scatter the ashes into the ocean. Needless to say, these creatures were considered all but unstoppable.
Draugar lived in the barrows (graves), but they were not confined by them. A draugr could exit its barrow at will, and often did. They were known to exit their barrows and wander the country-side. Such draugar were generally believed to be compelled by their desire to keep living, and they attack the living out of either jealousy, or an attempt to regain what they had lost. However, not all draugr are evil. Among the stories are tales of undead who were friends from life calling back and forth to one another from the grave, continuing their friendship long after death. This friendlier side of the draugar is not as commonly seen.
Draugar kill their victims in a number of ways, including stripping their flesh and eating it, drinking their blood, swallowing men whole or crushing them (when in their giant form), and they were also known to drive men and animals mad – although it is not clear if this was an intentional power or simply a natural result of their presence. With their host of powers they obviously have many more ways to kill their victims, but those listed above appear to be favorites.
So, how did anyone fight these incredible beings? Sheer, brutal guts. According to Scandinavian mythology only true heroes could face down rampaging draugar, because only heroes have the strength, courage, and fortitude to defeat them. Their general lack of weaknesses is one of the things that set draugar apart from many monsters. While most monsters have some kind of significant weakness to offset their strengths (vampires are vulnerable to hawthorne, rosewood, and garlic among other things; the more powerful werewolves have no control over their transformation, etc). However, the draugar have no significant weaknesses – they can be hurt by iron (as opposed to many Fae, where simply touching iron is extremely painful), but it can’t kill them. In fact, in many stories the heroes must -face a draugr bare-handed and wrestle it to the ground before they are able to use iron (preferably from the draugr’s barrow) to decapitate it, and then burn the body. Given the draugr’s powers this was an extraordinarily difficult task.
Even though they are such incredible monsters, draugar do not appear in much modern fiction. Some arguments have been made the the barrow-white that Frodo encounters in The Fellowship of the Ring is a draugr, but it bears more similarity to the haugbui (a less powerful Scandinavian undead creature). Bethesda’s Elder Scroll’s series has featured Draugar in two different games: the third, Bloodmoon and the fifth, Skyrim. They also appear in a couple other video games, and a small selection of books. However, they never seem to be depicted with their full scope of powers. Ultimately, the draugar are a great, and virtually untapped, mine of monstrous potential!
Demons, Monsters, and Ghosts, Oh No! Reintroduction: Where do Ideas Come From?
For those of you who have been following my extended series on Demons, Monsters, Ghosts, and other fantistical creatures on While We’re Paused, starting here, I will be continuing that series here. For those of you who have not followed this series, or who question its value to writers, this post is intended to show you why mythology (both ancient and modern) is important to our career, especially in the fantasy genre.
Fantasy writing depends on the old, the ancient, and the legendary for its very existence. Without myth, monsters, and heroes to fight them the fantasy genre would not exist. Now this is not to say that the monsters need to be the focus of the story, or that a mythological world view (a term coined by the theologian Rudolf Bultmann) must be the only viewpoint that can be expressed. However, even relatively low magic, low fantasy settings such as George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire include both the mythical and the monstrous to some degree.
I have read/seen many modern works of fantasy and urban fantasy that do not respect, or seem to even understand, the myths, legends, and lore surrounding their contents (Stephanie Meyer, I’m looking at you). These authors take a general idea, and attempt to make it their own, often in ways that violate the very heart of the creatures or legends that they reference. The Twilight series is an excellent example of this. Meyer effectively removes every negative of being a vampire, and in doing so makes them less monster and more uberminch, or possibly demigod. In folklore the monstrous exists for a reason, it is frightening, it is negative, and it is inviolably dangerous. Numerous modern authors have taken this concept of the monstrous and twisted it into something desirable. We no longer fear Dracula, instead we want to date him.
In this series I have delved into the legend, lore, history, and modern use of a number of creatures including archetypal demons, vampires, and most lately, werewolves (which is where I will be picking up the series). The need for an understanding of the origins, and evolution, of this mythology cannot be overstated for writers. Yes, we have artistic liberty, but if we are going to use that which came before us, then we should understand it, and respect it, first. We should seek to understand the reasons behind the legends, and the consequences that our alteration of them will bring, before we sit down to write. This is an understanding that many authors seem to have lost.
So, the purpose of this series is threefold, 1) it is interesting and fun, as should be any creative endeavor to which we devote our time and energy, 2) it is intended to educate both the writer, and the reader, about the origins and evolution of the monstrous throughout history, so that it may be used effectively, and appropriately, and 3) it is intended to provide writers with a wide array of monstrous creatures for use in their stories (variety is the spice of life after all).
I hope that you all both enjoy and benefit from my research and work in this field, and that you can make use of it in understanding where the monstrous fits in your worlds and writings.