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Send in the Monsters!

An artist hears the pitter-pattering of little hooves

by Amanda Sukenick

If it weren’t for monsters, I would probably have become an axe-wielding murderer a long time ago, but every time I look down into some horrible face, or see a sharp three-fingered claw, or even hear the pitter-pattering of little hooves, I cannot help but smile. Monsters are the great stabilizers, those eternal mirrors into the human soul. They put my anger to rest, and set my imagination into a frenzy. Monsters are precisely what turn my mind away from real wrong-doing and towards creativity.

Carl Jung once wrote, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of the light, but by making the darkness conscious.” I have always agreed with this statement, and I suppose it has become something of my credo. Monsters are certainly not figures of the light; they put a face on the very worst of human emotions. They give opposition a look, and a tinge of humanity, which can give us pause in our actions.

My favorite monsters have always been those that are, or have at some point been, human beings. It is perhaps unfair to call many of these characters true monsters. Yet all of them have an element of monstrosity about them, which seems to make their humanity more meaningful for me.

When I was 10 and for a few years after, I didn’t think about anything else but The Phantom of The Opera. I was an extremely introverted, lonely kid, severely learning disabled (I could not read until the 4th grade), with no one to talk to. What Erik (The Phantom) gave me, was a sense of pride in feeling so alone. No matter how bad Erik’s life got, he still saw the relevance in pursuing his artwork through his music, architecture and magic, and in that sense, monster or not, what better hero is there for a lonely kid than Erik?

And where would I be without my darling Renfield? Renfield is the bug and rat-eating madman from Dracula, whom Dracula makes his slave by promising him eternal life in exchange for his undying loyalty. There is still a great deal about why I am attracted to Renfield that I do not understand. He is a trusting, child-like figure, who thinks that he will be rewarded so long as he is good. However, Renfield becomes disgruntled with his cruel master when Dracula starts attacking the wrong people, and won’t give him the precious bug-blood that Renny needs to survive, and so Renfield betrays his master’s evil plot to the enemy.

How did Renfield become such a major part of my imagination? Is it because I somehow feel like so long as I remain good, everything will magically work out? Or is it because I secretly wish that my life could be simplified by inescapable commands so long as there is reward at the end of the tunnel? Is it the promise that Renfield is given of eternal life and power that is so enticing? Or is it simply because I think my little Renny is as cute as a button? I wish I could be certain, but in truth I probably will not know until I have done a great deal more work in his honor.

As often maligned and scoffed at as the world of horror and monsters typically are, one should always remember that there are people out there, such as myself, who need to rely on symbols. As childish and arbitrary as they can sometimes appear, they are extremely powerful archetypes that have the ability to represent every nuance and complexity of real life. For that reason alone, they are some of the best teachers that artists and storytellers have created to help pull themselves out of hell.