"So what’s a monster?"[info]ted_slaughter

monster: c.1300, "malformed animal, creature afflicted with a birth defect," from O.Fr. monstre, from L. monstrum "monster, monstrosity, omen, portent, sign," from root of monere "warn" (see monitor). Abnormal or prodigious animals were regarded as signs or omens of impending evil. Extended c.1385 to imaginary animals composed of parts of creatures (centaur, griffin, etc.). Meaning "animal of vast size" is from 1530; sense of "person of inhuman cruelty or wickedness" is from 1556. In O.E., the monster Grendel was an aglæca, a word related to aglæc "calamity, terror, distress, oppression."

See also demonstrate, but, oddly enough, not stats

"To warn." Well isn’t that a breath of fresh air? A monster is a warning. And, I think we would say, a monster movie is a warning. "If we continue behaving in x fashion, this will be the result." A monster movie may enforce that assertion (Aliens: "if we continue to let capitalism shape the way we think, the result will be our destruction") examine it (American Werewolf: "if we are careless, even the charming and sympathetic among us may become evil") or invert it (Edward Scissorhands: "the monster is blameless, it is we who are the monsters").

Thanks to everyone for contributing to yesterday’s post — there were many excellent suggestions made, movies I hadn’t thought about in years and, sometimes, had never thought of at all.


13 Responses to “Monsters!”
  1. curt_holman says:


    The Mystery Science Theater installment, “Manos,” The Hands of Fate has a less serious discussion on the nature of monsters at about the 3:45 mark:

    • stormwyvern says:

      Re: Torgo

      After which you probably immediately stop watching, because “manos” is one of those films that is hard to take even with the benefit of MST3K.

  2. sheherazahde says:


    I did some research on the history of monsters when I was preparing my notes for Introduction to the Sacred Clown Dwarves were employed as fools in royal courts because they were “monsters”.

    The notes are short, you might want to take a look at them for more ideas about monsters as as warnings.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Monsters

      I would think that any extreme physical deformation would qualify as a direct warning.

      • sheherazahde says:

        Re: Monsters

        Pretty much. For a job as a court fool Dwarves probably were just the most common, most functional, and had the lowest mortality rate. A wealthy king could have a whole little dwarf family in a miniature house.

        I just watched that MST3K clip that someone linked to on your last post. They go through quite a list of extreme physical deformations.

        • Todd says:

          Re: Monsters

          Dwarves weren’t used only as entertainment, of course — many were thought to have special magical or precognitive powers. Which explains Yoda.

          • sheherazahde says:

            Re: Monsters

            I had never heard of dwarves having precognitive powers. But that would fit in with them being monsters/warnings and their role as sacred clowns/messengers from the gods. The fool is frequently more significant than just entertainment.

            But this discussion got me thinking about the 1962 movie Freaks Which is another commentary on what makes one a “monster”.

  3. stormwyvern says:

    Having had a little more time to ponder it, I think the formula for monsters is much like the formula you suggested for aliens (who can probably be categorized as monsters at least some of the time). The monster needs to ne a metaphor – whether subtle or obvious – or you will probably end up with an narrative that falls flat. Even the Universal monsters generally stood for something other than scary makeup and costumes and now horrible dated effects, which is why their stories still tend to resonate.

  4. kornleaf says:

    this is why i love sites like
    etymology dictionary

  5. yetra says:

    Ooo, thanks for reminding me of Grendel. The 2005 icelandic version, Beowulf & Grendel, is awesome. Also, No Such Thing, a 2001 film by Hal Hartley, also shot in Iceland, also starring Sarah Polley. Both excellent.

    No Such Thing Summary:
    Disgusted with human evolution and a society driven by instant gratification and voyeuristic sensationalism, a foul-mouthed Monster kills anyone who crosses his path. When a news crew sent to investigate the Monster disappears, their ratings-obsessed boss sends a guileless young woman to follow up on the story. This young journalist forges an unlikely friendship with the Monster.

    • yetra says:

      Summary for Beowulf and Grendel:
      The blood-soaked tale of a Norse warrior’s battle against the great and murderous troll, Grendel. Heads will roll. Out of allegiance to the King Hrothgar, the much respected Lord of the Danes, Beowulf leads a troop of warriors across the sea to rid a village of the marauding monster. The monster, Grendel, is not a creature of mythic powers, but one of flesh and blood – immense flesh and raging blood, driven by a vengeance from being wronged, while Beowulf, a victorious soldier in his own right, has become increasingly troubled by the hero-myth rising up around his exploits. Beowulf’s willingness to kill on behalf of Hrothgar wavers when it becomes clear that the King is more responsible for the troll’s rampages than was first apparent. As a soldier, Beowulf is unaccustomed to hesitating. His relationship with the mesmerizing witch, Selma, creates deeper confusion. Swinging his sword at a great, stinking beast is no longer such a simple act. The story is set in barbarous Northern Europe where the reign of the many-gods is giving way to one – the southern invader, Christ. Beowulf is a man caught between sides in this great shift, his simple code transforming and falling apart before his eyes. Vengeance, loyalty and mercy powerfully entwine. A story of blood and beer and sweat, which strips away the mask of the hero-myth, leaving a raw and tangled tale.

      Definitely a different take than the hollywood Beowulf.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Maybe this is behind this summer’s spate of monsters — Monty, the Georgia Bigfoot, etc.


    • Todd says:

      You’re not kidding — in one week alone we had three — Bigfoot, Chupacabra and Monty. The only ones left out were the aliens and the Loch Ness monster.