With the proliferation of paranormal romance, the monster… traditionally a dweller only in horror and fantasy stories… has grown popular. Vampires abounded for a while, driven in part by a popular role playing game. Werecreatures – as often feline as not for the romances – have had their day, and are experiencing a resurgence in fantasy and horror. Zombies, ironically, brought the horror shelves back from oblivion in some bookstores. Demons, typically part-demon, part-human characters, have become a standard “bad boy” in paranormal romance.
While they’re rarely the lead, other monsters have experienced a revival as well… typically as villains or at least minions of the opposition. Revitalized creatures in the Frankenstein mode and mummies are common. Even more so are the mythologicals, creatures or demigods from one myth cycle or another now used as sidekicks or antagonists. (Want a sidekick? Let’s hunt Asian folklore and bring in a kitsune or a dragon. Villain? Egyptian or Aztec gods are always nice. Or there’s fairie… the Fae are good, evil, or both depending on the storyline.)
Read enough of these and you start getting monster burnout. Seen the ghost before. Ghouls? Sure. Rakshasa? Why not?
I blame Gary Gygax, personally. Dungeons and Dragons did not merely expose a generation of teens to heroic fantasy but, in an effort to provide a variety of combat encounters for potential warriors books upon books of creatures were culled from popular fiction and myths and quantified. Because of the need for diverse physical appearances and a desire to sanitize the more violent, sexual and profane aspects of some historical creatures, many of the things named in the Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, etc… bear little resemblance to their progenitors. And above all, because of authors who didn’t want to do adequate research (or who realized that many in their audience might complain if their more accurate depictions didn’t mesh with the readers’ preconceptions) many monsters were rendered mundane.
I’m a traditionalist. I think monsters, particularly in horror stories, should be disturbing. More to the point, I wonder why so few new ones seem to be created and why so many classic creations are being ignored. While there are some, like the Triffids, whose creation is tied into a world-shaking story and who cannot be addressed in any way other than a sequel (and I’ll offer public thanks to Simon Clark right now) there are a variety of others whose creation was associated with a story or group of stories and who could easily reappear, perhaps after clearing it with their creator or the creator’s estate.
An invisible stone-hard creature with a spiderlike body and a beautiful face, the monster of “The Thing on the Fourble Board” was introduced to the world on one of the defining stories of the radio era. It has never, to the best of my knowledge, been expanded upon. Nor have most of the beings created by Manly Wade Wellman for “The Desrick on Yandro” or his well-developed hidden race of monsters, the Shonokin. Lawrence Watt-Evans created Nightmare People for his horror novel and I remain surprised that no other authors have borrowed his creation (with blessing, of course) for a short story somewhere.
These are shining examples, but they aren’t unique. There are dozens of great monsters out there, without even delving into the multitudes of normal-animal-with-nightmarish-mutations, Cthulhoid horrors or the legions of alternate undead.
It’s almost enough to make me wish I were a writer. I believe that a story which handles the original material with appropriate dignity and respect while crafting something new has a great chance of standing out. I think this has been demonstrated in the past with the Lovecraft circle and in the present with stories like The Death of Captain Future by Allen Steele.
But mostly, I’d just like to see some monsters given the exposure they deserve.