It may a couple of days after Hallowe’en, but it’s still the holiday weekend for many. I’m sure several Hallowe’en celebrations are going on as I write this post, with costumed party-goers stalking around as vampires and pirates. To finish off the conversation, I want to give my quick thoughts on a few monsters and what they can mean for our faith.
They’re everywhere these days. At least as popular as zombies, the cold-blooded predators of the night have caught the imagination of our generation with stories like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Twilight series, Underworld, True Blood, and the Anne Rice novels. But why have these blood-sucking monsters become so fascinating to our culture?
I believe that the largest appeal of vampires lies in our love of hedonism in the West. We seek pleasure, and we want it now. We are told that we deserve the good life with everything we could ever want, and dream of the day we have these things. Vampires live that dream. As immortals, they are able to live long enough to obtain all the worldly wealth anyone could want. They are physically strong enough to take whatever they desire, and their predatory nature gives them the will to do so. There is also an inherent sensuality to the fanged night-dwellers: they live at night, while others are partying, relaxing, or sleeping; they are often graceful and fit; and the act of sucking blood from someone’s neck is very intimate.
Are vampires inherently evil? We seem to be asking that question lately. The original vampires were wicked monsters, but recent authors have started to question that idea. Louis, from Interview with the Vampire, struggles with the vampiric life he did not choose. The Twilight series features good vampires that do not feed on humans. Even I’m writing a story that involves a vampire having to choose what kind of immortal she wants to be. It seems to me that vampires, like humans, are “born” into a life that tends away from goodness. They are hungry for that which they should not take. In their struggle, we see ourselves and our addictions. Are they overdone right now? Definitely. Can they be redeemed? I hope so.
Almost any time we find vampires in the media, we find werewolves somewhere nearby. They make for an excellent foil to the aristocratic undead: while they both are monstrous predators of the night, werewolves are often everything vampires are not. They are wild and savage while vampires are refined and sophisticated. They tend to be a rural, not urban terror. They are not usually immortal. Yet, they have haunted our stories for a very long time.
Like vampires, werewolves are powerful. In a world that seems to show us daily how little power we actually have, the idea of gaining supernatural strength is appealing. We also live so tightly wound, trying to maintain control over our lives, and the prospect of having to lose control may be liberating for some. Yet, there is still something incredibly terrifying about a monster that can live among regular people without being known. We never know who the werewolf is, feeding any fears we might have about those around us. I’ve said many times that our society has become hyper-individualized, and this has led to a strong aversion to people who aren’t in our circles. The idea that the mailman, or your teacher, or even your spouse could be a murderous monster strikes something deep within: how well do we really know those around us?
There is a cure to this fear: get to know some people. Neighbours become far less intimidating after you’ve had them over for dinner. Even something as small as getting to know the name of someone you see daily can allow the first seeds of real community to start to sprout. Just as wolves only survive in packs, we thrive best in community. Maybe we can learn from the furry fiends.
Aliens are not as hot today as the other big three of horror, but they have been staples of Hallowe’en for much of the past 60 years or so. Unlike zombies, vampires, and werewolves, however, aliens are the enemy from without. The other three were all once human and have turned into the enemy (part of their scariness), but aliens are completely unlike us. They are the enemy we do not know.
Aliens really became popular during the cold war. Western society became less afraid of the known enemies, like criminals and soldiers, and more afraid of spies and the forces behind the “Iron Curtain.” (It’s actually quite fascinating to look at war’s effect on cinema, but that’s another post). The Cold War may be over, but there is still a fear of the “other” that resides within us all.
When we think about it, “otherness” is quite daunting, even when it isn’t armed with lasers and bent on the destruction of humanity. Aliens are scary because they cannot be communicated with (often), do not have common ground to seek empathy on, and have completely different motives from what we consider normal. We don’t know how to fight them or reason with them, or even run from them. And their technology often places them in a far more superior place than we are, which kicks us from the top of the evolutionary chain (if you subscribe to evolution).
However, aliens often bring people together. Having a common enemy draws humanity to a common cause: our survival. While the unification of homo sapiens is an admirable goal, one which I would love to see one day, I hope that it does not take an otherworldly foe to do the job. If we can find other causes, perhaps creative and productive rather than destructive, we can pull together and find peace. There are so many qualities that we share, we really just need to find enough to empathize with each other.
There are many other monsters that I haven’t touched upon today, but I have to save something for next year. I hope you all stayed safe this Hallowe’en, and that your sugar-induced coma doesn’t last too long. Until next week.