We are monsters

March 5, 2015 at 12:39 am Leave a comment

gwgM.R. Carey, author of The Girl with All the Gifts, wrote in a piece for Orbit Publishing’s website that horror that involves beings such as vampires, werewolves and other human-like creatures is truly only scary because, in essence, those creatures are us. They are all a reflection of various aspects of the human spirit and experience, or, as he says:

…we’re forced to confront, in the monster, aspects of our own nature that are disturbing, frightening or hard to acknowledge.

Which is an interesting point when you consider that a huge and growing segment of popular literature these days involves vampires, werewolves and zombies. What does it say about readers that we seem to be becoming more and more drawn to these monsters who exaggerate the qualities of which we are most ashamed?

One particular creature that fascinates me is the werewolf. From simple shape-shifters who retain human intelligence while in animal form to half-man, half-beast monsters who may or may not have to sacrifice their morals to the needs of “the beast,” werewolves run the gamut — and often say more about humans than the actual human characters do.

thFor example, Anne Rice’s wolves in The Wolf Gift are, like their author, distinctly Christian. Not only do they often literally stop and thank God for “the Wolf Gift,” they act with superhero-like vengeance. They seek out injustice and evil, often killing the perpetrators — and, apparently, this is morally unambiguous. The “Wolf Gift” allows these “Man Wolves” (and yes, they are always men, it seems) to act as the soldiers of a God filled with righteous anger.

Rice’s weres aren’t subhuman, they are almost super-human, given the ability to do what they love most — serve the forces of good. Being a wolf, it seems, is just a way to become an Ubermensch, a Superman, a force for moral good. I suppose this form of were reflects a human desire for action, our desire to go out there and fix things, to take the world and mold it into something just and good. The Kingdom of God, if you will.

Imagine if you had the power to go out and literally rescue people! But also have great sex, it seems, without the temptation to eat one’s lover (because, of course, they are good, and you are not compelled to kill good people). Best of both worlds, I guess. But it’s ultimately pretty boring, at least as far as it’s examined by rice. For someone who used to be very skilled at delving into the dark side of human nature, she’s remarkably reluctant to do that here.

More often, weres find themselves in a moral gray area. They are animals, after all, and animals don’t have a lot of emotions, ethics or introspection. My dog will chase and kill a rabbit without thinking, without hesitation — she’s a predator, and she does not apologize for killing these things that so obviously need to be hunted. She’s a dog, and that’s what dogs do.

9532302In the same way, the werewolves in Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf and Talulla Rising books are killers. They kill people; they have to. People are prey, and wulf will kill without compunction. And, they point out, they can’t just subsist on a diet of criminals or animals — the appetite is universal, says Jake, the main character of the first book. Worse, when they eat people, they actually can feel “ghosts” of that person inside them, it seems. So they essentially become these communities of people they have killed, all being kept in line by one consciousness but driven by animal instinct.

And yet — these people are so free. By virtue of being animals, they can revel and find joy in things that humans are supposed to find abhorrent. The major werewolf ritual is something they call “fuckeatkill,” when all appetites (for sex, for violence, for sustenance) are pushed to their height and then sated at once. What is striking is that, while the weres know this must be wrong from a human standpoint, they embrace what they are and what they need. They are relieved when they finally turn at the full moon and they can be their true selves, mixing sex and death and hunger in ways we won’t let ourselves do as humans. Jake describes Tallula as beautiful and graceful after she changes, and despite what we know about the objective reality of her wulf form, we see what he sees — a woman who carries herself with the confidence that comes from being stronger, faster and less inhibited by human morals than everyone around her.

Of course, this is horrifying. What if everyone was a werewolf? Anarchy. These people are totally and completely characterized by a lack of restraint. But what’s most terrifying is the appeal this has to us. We all want this, it’s in our animal nature to gorge ourselves on sex, food and violence. The idea that really, the wulf is inside all of us, is the truly scary part of Duncan’s world.

stThe insidiousness of these appetites is perhaps most fully realized in Toby Barlow’s epic poem, Sharp Teeth. The wolves are more dogs, but that makes them scarier. They are literally hiding in animal shelters, in people’s homes. Any dog, anywhere — any person, anywhere — could be a werewolf.

There’s something appealing there. These werewolves (actually a word never used — they refer to themselves just as wolves) have a strong family bond and pack mentality, and Annie, a young werewolf, talks about the joy of running with her pack on the beaches of California. They all feel the security of belonging to a pack — until they don’t. The packs, at their best, feel like family, and at worst, feel like a gang.

More than anything, the horror of Barlow’s work lies in realizing that, in his world, your cubicle mate, your boss, your accountant, your girlfriend, even your dog is hiding the fact that he or she is actually a cold-blooded killer who finds joy in causing the death of others. The amazing part is, too, that there is not a compulsion here to kill or to shape-shift, apart from the wolf’s own desires. They want to be wolves, they actively want to kill, they are methodical and smart and as careful as any successful serial killer. And they revel in it.

And then you find yourself reveling in it, too. And that’s when you realize fully what M. R. Carey wrote at the end of that piece —

We are always, in the end, our own monster.


Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction, Horror, Musings and Essays. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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