Tag Archives: monsters

“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley: Creating Our Own Gods and Demons

This was my third reading of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece. What struck me on this reading was just how rich this text is and how many layers of symbolism and metaphor is woven in to the story. As pages of my journal filled with notes, I realized that I faced the daunting task of narrowing down all my thoughts to a short blog post. After some deliberation, I decided to focus on the concept of humanity creating gods and demons.

The first thing to point out is how Shelley uses the term “creature.” It is specifically the product of the creative process, particularly from the mind. A creature, therefore can be anything which we as creative beings consciously create.

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally at the panes, and the candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

(p. 34)

Throughout the text, I noticed that the creature is depicted as both godlike and demonic. That is because the things that our minds create can be both positive and negative, and often a combination of both. The issue becomes whether we allow the creatures of our minds to elevate us spiritually or drag us down to our lesser natures.

I will first provide an example of the creature as godlike, as a being described as both omnipotent, invincible, and in control of the future.

But to me the remembrance of the threat returned: not can you wonder, that, omnipotent as the fiend had yet been in his deeds of blood, I should almost regard him as invincible; and that when he pronounced the words, “I shall be with you on your wedding-night,” I should regard the threatened fate as unavoidable.

((p. 132)

The other thing I would like to point out regarding this passage is the tone of the creature’s proclamation. It almost sounds like how God speaks in biblical text. God speaks, and what he says comes into being.

Next we will look at a passage where the creature is depicted as demonic, particularly associated with Satan. Here the creature embodies Lucifer’s characteristics of persuasion and eloquence.

He is eloquent and persuasive; and once his words had even power over my heart: but trust him not. His soul is as hellish as his form, full of treachery and fiend-like malice.

(p. 145)

Near the end of the tale, Victor Frankenstein warns Walton about the dangers of creation, about how when we use the power of our minds to create our gods, we inevitably also end up creating our own personal demons.

Sometimes I endeavoured to gain from Frankenstein the particulars of his creature’s formation; but on this point he was impenetrable.

“Are you mad, my friend?” said he, “or whither does your senseless curiosity lead you? Would you create for yourself and the world a demoniacal enemy? Or to what do your questions tend? Peace, peace! learn from my miseries, and seek not to increase your own.”

(p. 146)

This parable in Frankenstein is an important one and pertinent to our times. Many of us allow the news, social media, and the plethora of mental distractions to create imagined threats, monsters, and demons that plague our minds. What we imagine ultimately becomes our reality. We should learn from Frankenstein’s mistake and not let ourselves create our own demons which will inevitably destroy ourselves and our world.

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Eerie: Issue #1

Eerie_01

As a youth, I was obsessed with horror and sci-fi comics. I devoured them and while it caused some slight concern with my parents, it ultimately planted the seeds which grew into a love of reading. One of the comics I remember distinctly was Eerie. As all good thing from the past somehow seem to come back, it doesn’t surprise me that Dark Horse Comics has resurrected the Eerie publication. I figured since it is October, it would be the perfect time of the year to pick up an issue and see if it is as good as the ones I remember from my childhood.

This was definitely a step into my past. The issue is hosted by Cousin Eerie, a somewhat jolly, plump creature with a twisted sense of humor. He’s almost like a macabre Falstaff. The issue is comprised of four short vignettes which fall into the sci-fi/horror genre.

The first one, “A Robot for Your Thoughts,” is all about artificial intelligence and robots taking over the world. A man suspects that his family has been replaced by robots, so it’s somewhat reminiscent of The Stepford Wives, but with a nice twist at the end.

The next tale, “Life Species,” is about a team of space explores searching extinct planets for the remains of previous life forms, then examining them to try and understand what happened to them and why the species declined. It reminded me of an old Twilight Zone episode, but with a humorous ending. This was probably my favorite story in the issue.

The third tale, “Beta-Eden,” is clearly inspired by the Alien films. It has space explorers encountering an alien race that lays their eggs inside the human host. The spawn then feed on the host. This was probably my least favorite story. It just felt hackneyed and the artwork was not so great.

The last story, “Child,” is a reworking of the Frankenstein archetype. A bereaved scientist decides to construct a child out of parts of the dead. Upon reanimation, he is initially horrified at his creation, but then forms paternal connection which turns to love. What I liked the most about this particular tale was the writing. It was written almost as an epistle, where the father is speaking directly to the child. It works very well and I liked the way the story unfolds.

Overall, I enjoyed this. It was $2.99 well spent and I think the writers capture the campiness of the original publication. I would certainly read more of these.

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Symbolism in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs

MissPeregrine

So I decided to take a break from reading Joyce’s Ulysses and read something more fun. Also, I was taking a short beach trip and was afraid I’d look awfully pretentious lying on the beach reading James Joyce. So this book was on my shelf and it seemed like a good choice for a beach read. I have to say that it was the perfect book, a quick read and enjoyable.

The book is kind of a dark fantasy novel, dealing with time loops, Lovecraftian monsters, mystical powers, and psychological trauma. While it sounds pretty morbid, it’s not quite as dark as it sounds. But what makes this book so cool, in my opinion, are the photographs included in the book. Riggs incorporates black-and-white pictures as part of the story, and there are quite a lot of them. It works really well. It is almost like a hybrid between a graphic novel and a “normal” book. It also sometimes feels like one of those old films that project a series of images to tell the story.

There is a lot of great symbolism in this book. So while it is a plot-driven story, there is much that you can think about if you choose. The first symbol worth considering is the island, where most of the story takes place. The island is a symbol for an isolated part of the psyche, a fixed point in the rippling sea of consciousness. And like our subconscious, the island is shrouded in mystery.

It was my grandfather’s island. Looming and bleak, folded in mist, guarded by a million screeching birds, it looked like some ancient fortress constructed by giants. As I gazed up at its sheer cliffs, tops disappearing in a reef of ghostly clouds, the idea that this was a magical place didn’t seem so ridiculous.

(p. 70)

The island has a bog, which is a point of transition between two dimensions. This represents a part of the psyche where it is possible to shift between states of consciousness. The bog is neither solid nor fluid, but a combination of the both, like a threshold. It symbolizes the psychic membrane which one must pass through when altering states of consciousness.

And as doors to the next world go, a bog ain’t a bad choice. It’s not quite water and not quite land—it’s an in-between place.

(p. 94)

There is one scene where sheep on the island were killed and mutilated. This is symbolic of the sacrificial lamb archetype. In this book, the sheep represent the Jews that were killed by the Nazis in World War II, and they also represent the peculiars, who are being hunted down.

The violence inside was almost cartoonish, like the work of some mad impressionist who painted only in red. The tramped grass was bathed in blood, as were the pen’s weathered posts and the stiff white bodies of the sheep themselves, flung about in attitudes of sheepish agony. One had tried to climb the fence and got its spindly legs caught between the slats. It hung before me at an odd angle, clam-shelled open from throat to crotch, as if it had been unzipped.

(p. 204)

The last symbol I want to mention is the homunculus. One of the peculiars is able to create homunculi out of clay. This draws on the golem mythology and the Frankenstein parable, of one who plays god and creates man from the earth. In the book, Enoch, the peculiar who makes the clay beings, takes on the characteristics of the cruel god, torturing and punishing his creations for not doing his will.

The clay soldier I’d returned began wandering again. With his foot, Enoch nudged it back toward the group. They seemed to be going haywire, colliding with one another like excited atoms. “Fight, you nancies!” he commanded, which is when I realized they weren’t simply bumping into one another, but hitting and kicking. The errant clay man wasn’t interested in fighting, however, and when he began to totter away once more, Enoch snatched him up and snapped off his legs.

“That’s what happens to deserters in my army!” he cried, and tossed the crippled figure into the grass, where it writhed grotesquely as the others fell upon it.

(p. 217)

As I said, I really liked this book. The only complaint I have about it is that it is the first book in a series, so it has an open ending that anticipates the next book, which is Hollow City. I will certainly read the next book, but I am just getting a little tired of serialized books. It seems to have become the norm in publishing, kind of a way to ensure future book sales. Other than that, great book and I totally recommend reading it. Cheers!!

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“The Book of Legendary Lands” by Umberto Eco

LegendaryLands

Let me start out by saying that I loved this book. Then again, I’m kind of an Umberto Eco fanboy. I think he is one of the most brilliant writers and scholars around today, which is why I didn’t think twice about spending the $50 for a hardcover copy of this book, and it was worth every penny. Not only is the writing superb and the quotes inspiring, but it is richly illustrated with stunning artwork. This is a worthy addition to any bookshelf.

In the book, Eco explores legendary lands which he defines as “lands and places that, now or in the past, have created chimeras, utopias, and illusions because a lot of people thought they existed or had existed somewhere.” (p. 7) Examples of legendary lands include biblical lands, places depicted in Homer’s The Odyssey, El Dorado, Atlantis, the interior of the Earth, and so forth. Eco writes about these places and the legends that grew concerning them. He then includes an array of quotes from primary sources that are lengthy enough to give you a good sense of what the writers thought concerning these realms. He also looks at the historical impact of these legends, as well as the historical facts that helped proliferate the legends, since “legends are always born on the basis of a historical truth.” (p. 44)

I found the chapter on The Odyssey to be very interesting. Eco explores theories regarding the locations of the places in the poem, and there are quite a few. There are also some beautiful maps showing the supposed locations. In the end, though, Eco concludes that there is no way to determine whether the information in the poem is accurate or whether the places truly existed or not, but emphasizes the importance that the legend has had on humanity should not be discounted.

This book is not intended to establish Ulysses’ true periplus. The poet (or poets) later made things up on the basis of legendary information. The Odyssey is a beautiful legend, and all attempts to reconstruct it on a modern map have created just as many legends. One of those we have mentioned is perhaps true or plausible, but what fascinates us is the fact that over the centuries we have been entranced by a journey that never happened. Wherever Calypso lived, a great many men have dreamed of spending a few years in her sweetest of captivities.

(p. 75)

Of course, no discussion of legendary lands would be complete without a look at the legend of Atlantis.

Of all legendary lands, Atlantis is the one that, over the centuries, has most exercised the imagination of philosophers, scientists, and seekers of mysteries (cf. Albini 2012). And naturally what has reinforced the legend more and more is the persuasion that a vanished continent really existed and that it is difficult to rediscover traces of it because it sank into the sea. The notion that there were once lands above water that subsequently vanished is by no means a crazy one. In 1915 Alfred Wegener formulated the theory of continental drift, and today it is believed that 225 million years ago, the Earth consisted of a single continent, Pangaea, which then (about 200 million years ago) began to split up slowly, giving rise to the continents we know today. And so in the course of the process, many Atlantises may have arisen and then disappeared.

(p. 182)

One of the things that really fascinated me regarding Atlantis was the effect it had on Nazi occultists who sought to discover evidence that the white Aryans were actually descendants from the Atlantean race.

Atlantis also seduced many occultists who gravitated to the Nazi party. For this, see the chapter on Thule and Hyperborea, but it is worth remembering that Hans Hörbinger’s theory of eternal ice maintained that the submersion of Atlantis and Lemuria was caused when the Earth captured the moon. In Atlantis die Urheimat der Arier (Atlantis, the Original Homeland of the Aryans, 1922), Karl Georg Zchaetzsch had written, followed by one of the maximum theorists of Nazi racism, Alfred Rosenberg, about a dominant “Nordic-Atlantean” or “Aryan-Nordic” race. It is said that in 1938 Heinrich Himmler had organized a search in Tibet with a view to finding the remains of the white Atlanteans.

(p. 199)

As a kid, I remember watching “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and thinking how cool it was, the idea that below the Earth’s surface could exist another world populated with dinosaurs and fantastic creatures. Eco points out that humans have long been fascinated with realms hidden below the ground and that this fascination has led to an abundance of legends.

The idea of penetrating the heart of the planet, beneath the crust, has always appealed to human beings, and some have seen in this passion for caves, recesses and underground passages a reaching out toward a maternal womb into which to return. No doubt we all remember how, when we were young, before falling asleep, we loved to huddle under the blankets and fantasize about some subterranean journey, isolated from the rest of the world; a cave could be a place where lurked monsters of the abyss, but also a refuge against human enemies or other monsters of the surface. With regard to caverns, people have dreamed of hidden treasures and imagined underground creatures such as gnomes; the Jesus of many traditions was not born in a stable but in a cave.

(pp. 348 – 350)

People who know me have probably heard me criticize Dan Brown, stating his books are little more than watered-down versions of Umberto Eco for the masses. For this reason, I found it ever so amusing when Eco himself criticized Brown in this book, focusing on how Brown propagated legends through books like The Da Vinci Code by claiming “Ninety-nine percent of it is true.” Eco is quick to point out that “If this really were a historical reconstruction, then there is no explanation for the umpteen blunders that Brown gaily sprinkles throughout his narrative.” (p. 420) I literally laughed out loud when I read this.

I have only scratched the surface of this book. There is a lot of great information and artwork here, but you should not be intimidated. It is written in a manner that makes these arcane legends accessible and enjoyable. If you have ever read a book and fantasized about a place being real, then this is definitely a book you will enjoy.

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“To Winter” by William Blake

WilliamBlake

O winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.

He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathed
In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear’d his sceptre o’er the world.

Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and in his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.

He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal’st
With storms, till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla.

This poem is one of Blake’s earlier poetical sketches and was written sometime between 1769 and 1777. I decided to read it because it seemed appropriate, now that we are in December.

I had to do a little research to grasp the deeper meaning of this poem. For me, the key to understanding the poem is in understanding the symbolism of Mount Hecla (or Mount Hekla). Hecla is Iceland’s most active volcano and, according to the article I read on Wikipedia, it was considered to be the gateway to Hell during the time when Blake was writing.

After the eruption of 1104, stories (which were probably spread deliberately through Europe by Cistercian monks) told that Hekla was the gateway to Hell… The Flatey Book Annal wrote of the 1341 eruption that people saw large and small birds flying in the mountain’s fire which were taken to be souls. In the 16th century Caspar Peucer wrote that the Gates of Hell could be found in “the bottomless abyss of Hekla Fell”. The belief that Hekla was the gate to Hell persisted until the 1800s. There is still a legend that witches gather on Hekla for Easter.

Once I understood the mythology surrounding Hecla, the poem made sense. Winter is the dark, cold, desolate time of the year, associated with death. Below the frozen wasteland is the fiery pit, pressing against the unbreakable doors, until the moment when it can burst through with explosive power, raining down fire and brimstone. But in the end, the beast is driven back down into the caves of sulfur, where is will wait until the next time it can break through the adamantine doors.

Mount Hekla: Source - Wikipedia

Mount Hekla: Source – Wikipedia

Maybe it is my anticipation for the release of the second Hobbit film, “The Desolation of Smaug,” but this poem also conjures an image of a dragon living below the volcano in the frozen north. I can picture the monster sleeping in its cave, but at any moment, it can awaken and burst forth in a cloud of fire, smoke, and ash.

This was not what I expected when I opened to the poem. I expected something dealing more with the season and the spiritual aspect of winter. Still, I loved this poem. Blake’s poetry never ceases to inspire me.

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