Folklore: Monsters

There are, of course, lots and lots of folktales throughout history about monsters.

What are the three most common monsters that you have heard of?

I would suggest that for many people, the three big monsters are Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Abominable Snowman. There are many others, though, from the Feejee Mermaid (a Barnum hoax) to Champ, the creature of Lake Champlain, to the Jersey Devil.

With the exception of the FeeJee Mermaid, what makes these folkloric creatures is the perpetuation of stories (by supposed witnesses) unconnected to proof. Occasionally, as with Bigfoot (or Sasquatch), the information becomes supposedly "authentic," but the stories seem to be based more on desire than scientific reality.

The truth is, it is unfortunately difficult to go on believing that there are creatures "out there," what with infrared thingies and satellite tracking. I think there is a tie here to the 20th/21st century rise in conspiracy theories. As the world "shrinks" and we learn that there are no Shangri-las, conspiracy theories--the insistence that something secretive is being kept from us--blossom. Perhaps, humans need Dover Demons and Memphres and Mothmans. Otherwise, the world is just too darn pragmatic!

Literary/Modern Examples: Monsters, Inc.. gives us the (very funny) Abominable Snowman, complete with John Ratzenberger's voice. And for a very modern monster, there is Stephen King's Cujo. Monster folklore seems to be partly about fear and partly about wonder. Cujo falls into the fear part of the equation. He is completely vicious and random, which may be part of the "monster's" attraction: come to think of it, the random, indifferent, but wholly destructive Moby Dick is another example.

And then there is "The Jersey Devil," an X-Files eponymous episode (Season 1) based on the folkloric monster. The background story for the Jersey Devil is that during the Revolutionary War, a colonist fell in love with a British solider; she eventually gave birth to a winged devil-baby; the story is fairly old but sightings didn't occur until 1909. I'm not sure why such a late date or why "sightings" in 1909 would choose the Jersey Devil for its monster; I suspect that the same people, forty years later, would have seen aliens. However, once the sightings were made, they continued, all the way up to 1993.

X-Files, naturally, gives the creature a completely different background but keeps the location and name (total digression, not class related: X-Files postulates that the creature is a new type of human, a step up the predatory scale: it is intelligent but preys on humans. The problem with this explanation is that humans are a step up the evolutionary scale from, say, tigers, not because they don't prey on humans. They are a step up because they have superior firepower. It doesn't matter how "advanced" a species is: if it lives in the woods wearing a loincloth and less-advanced humans can blow it up, it ain't going to survive long, not matter how super-duper intelligent it is. This just goes to prove that even X-Files had duds although the episode itself is okay entertainment).

Many folklorists, including Diane Purkiss of The Witch Throughout History, suggest that our belief in monsters, specifically our belief in aliens, is part of the same desire? inclination? that led humans to believe in fairies. As stated previously, when our inability to believe that "the people" are here faded, we sent them "out there."

I will post about aliens and alien abductions in a few days.

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