Why I Write Monsters, Part 1 – Mary Shelley

Yesterday was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley‘s birthday. She’s most well known for writing Frankenstein . Frankenstein is  one of the strongest influences in my horror and suspense. Although her style is a lot more Gothic and flowery than mine, Shelley asks deep, intelligent questions about the nature of man, of creation, of life itself. Furthermore, her story betrays a lot of her feelings of rejection from her own life–or so I proved in my senior term paper in high school.

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You see, I’ve never been interested in killing the monsters at first sight. I’ve always been far more interested in the monster’s side of the story.

I often think we’re too quick to dismiss the monsters. I see in them a reflection of those rejected in life, for reasons of disfigurement or disability, of illness or mental troubles, of cultural or ethnic conflict. We so easily divide life between us and them and whenever that happens, we turn Them, the Other, into our monsters.

Forgetting that we  could be the monsters in the narratives of others.

Frankenstein was one of my first glimpses into a world where the true monster was, in a way, Victor Frankenstein. His Monster, rather, was the pitiable, a figure made and then rejected for its actions.

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I often wonder what the Monster thought during his final moments. Sailing into the abyss, determined to kill itself because it found that the death of Frankenstein brought no relief. At times, I wonder what would have happened if he tried to live and become more than the sum of his parts.

Never to be truly human, truly normal, but also striving to grow beyond himself. Trying to fit in and find a purpose.

Some people look into the eyes of monsters and see a reflection of things that man must be saved from. Like Eustace being turned into a dragon in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, our monstrous side is something to be overcome by a greater force. In this story, the monster can be healed (although Eustace still acts annoying at times).

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But what about the monsters that can’t be saved?

What if the monstrous wasn’t a symbol of spiritual darkness, as so many claim? What if it was a physical infirmity, a psychological torment, a horrible disfigurement that must be lived with day in and day out? Something that separates people from the norm. That reminds them, in the moments of solitude, that they are different and chances of healing are slim.

Chances of acceptance are slim.

What kind of person comes forth at those moments of tragedy and loneliness? Those times of looking into the depths of one’s own heart and seeing the truth of one’s desires? Facing the trial of walking the line of heroism, but stained by the always-present temptation of darkness? Does being a monster, being rejected for any number of reasons, give someone the right to turn bitter? To strike back at those that seek to hurt them?

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One wrong step, one moment of self-righteous cruelty out of hurt and anger, and suddenly, you’re the very thing you most loathe.

This line between light and darkness, this battle in the soul of man, is what struck me most about Frankenstein. The man’s obsession with the creation of life, crossing one line–and the monster, trying desperately to cross back and be human.

Falling short at the end.

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For this reason, I write monsters, who aren’t always saved from their afflictions but must constantly cope with and battle them (see vampires and disabilities). Monsters who stare into the dark mirror at others, and at themselves, and fight the urge to give in and retaliate against those that would harm them.

Because in those dark moments, the light can shine brightest. Even if only a flickering candlelight.

All the Questions: have you ever read Frankenstein? What did you think? What, if any, are your favorite horror stories? What do you think of monsters? Do you have any favorites?

8 thoughts on “Why I Write Monsters, Part 1 – Mary Shelley

  1. Nice article. I have always been fascinated by the fact that the genre of horror was created by women, for primarily women readers. The Gothic monster novel got its big start as a subgenre of the gothic novel, of which Shelly wasn’t the first woman to write such things. In fact Gothic horror grew as the Penny Dreadful became popular and it was mostly women writing these things for women.

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    1. *nods* True, although I would say that Shelley did some of the finest work in lacing philosophical questions into her gothic horror. She wasn’t just going for visceral thrills to satisfy women who wanted a change from the every day. She was addressing potent ideas.

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      1. Absolutely true. If this is sexist, so be it, but a woman’s perspective gave her a real boost to get to the “short hairs” on the issue of creation.

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  2. I read Frankenstein as part of my high school worldviews course, which assigned me both Frankenstein and Jekyll & Hyde to compare and contrast. I think a lot of the nuance and philosophy of the story was lost on me, partly because of my age and partly because I was reading it with a particular assigned question in mind and didn’t enjoy the story much in and of itself. (I remember declaring that Jekyll & Hyde had a more Biblical message. I have no idea if I’d think that if I read them again now!) Those two books were the first two horror stories I read, and since then I didn’t read any more – until Blood Mercy! 😀

    At some point I forgot about horror’s literary beginnings (or assumed they were just origins) and came to see it as a genre meant purely to incite disgust, terror, and shock, with lots of blood and guts and creepy unbiblical demons. 😛 So it’s neat to be exploring the genre a bit more as an adult! 🙂 I doubt I’d ever watch a horror movie because my imagination is fertile enough without being seeded by horrifying visuals. But I’m enjoying it as a book genre, at least the examples I’ve seen of your writing. 🙂

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    1. Thanks! Glad it’s been redeemed. Horror at its best is more than just a visceral thing. All of those elements of disgust and shock and terror can be used to make powerful statements. Even when I’m not specifically writing ‘horror’ (and I always tend to genre-mix), those elements always seep in. 🙂

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  3. I read Frankenstein or rather listened to the audiobook a couple of years ago. I liked it. The Picture of Dorian Gray was another I found chilling. In general I like horror as long as it’s not gory. So horror books, yes. Slasher films not so much.
    The monster and disability parallels are fantastic. You asked all of the right questions. I incorporate disabilities and other limitations in most many of my stories and like the approach you took with this post.

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  4. I think early horror is FANTASTIC literature. Dorian Grey, Frankenstein, Dracula <– in which a lot of lives would have been saved if anyone had just TALKED to someone else instead of keeping secrets! all of them. Powerful books asking tough questions behind their tingly premises.

    And two points for the use of Imagine Dragons. 🙂

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