The human mind needs monsters. From ancient Egypt to modern Hollywood, imaginary beings have haunted dreams and fantasies, provoking in young and old shivers of delight, thrills of terror and endless fascination. All known folklores brim with visions of looming and ferocious monsters, often in the role of adversaries to great heroes.
But while heroes have been closely studied by mythologists, monsters have been neglected. Yet they are equally important as pan-human symbols that reveal similar insights into ways the mind works. In “Monsters,” anthropologist David D. Gilmore, professor of anthropology at SUNY-Stony Brook, explores what human traits monsters represent. He studies why they are ubiquitous in people’s imaginations and why they share so many features across different cultures.
Using colorful and absorbing evidence from nearly every time and place, “Monsters” is the first attempt by an anthropologist to delve into the mysterious, frightful abyss of mythical beasts and to interpret their role in the psyche and in society. After many hair-raising descriptions of monstrous beings in art, folktales, fantasy, literature and community ritual, including such avatars as Dracula and Frankenstein, Hollywood ghouls, and extraterrestrials, Gilmore identifies many common denominators and proposes some novel interpretations.
Monsters, according to Gilmore, are always enormous, man-eating, gratuitously violent, aggressive, sexually sadistic, and superhuman in power, combining our worst nightmares and our most urgent fantasies. We both abhor and worship our monsters: they are our gods as well as our demons. Gilmore argues that the immortal monster of the mind is a complex creation embodying virtually all of the inner conflicts that make us human.
— University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on October 31, 2002