Where Be Monsters?

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Yesterday the raptor linked me to this very interesting article about monsters in fantasy, and the fact that there aren’t very many any more. It’s a very interesting point. I fell in love with stories through Greek mythology, which is full of gorgons, hydras, harpies and so on. The monsters were cool, and often had their own backstories (Medusa, for example). Over time fantasy writing seems to have first lost the backstory, and then lost the monster. Where did they go, and is it time for them to have a revival?

The challenge is to make them fit with the modern approach to fantasy writing, which has become more and more focused on realism. Economies have to work, histories have to have a clear evolution, and random monsters can’t rampage around the countryside because the local Neighbourhood Watch Militia would have done something about it. So where on the map should there be monsters?

The extreme wilderness is an obvious place, giving the yeti and the giant squid some company, but that’s a bit tricky to get your heroes to. And besides, there’s probably some kind of conservationist society trying to protect them. I’ll freely admit that, despite my Greek literary upbringing and devotion to Tolkien (balrog, dragon, oliphaunts) and LARP (balrog, dragons, sphinx, beholders, etc etc etc), I don’t write any monsters in my fantasy because I’m not sure where they’d fit.

Come back, monsters, all is forgiven.

Who wouldn't want him as a pet?

Who wouldn’t want him as a pet?

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5 responses »

  1. You say “Who’d like him as a pet?” but I actually quite like the idea of a fantasy universe that has come to the point where the monsters are brought back from far off places to be shown off by people rich enough to go to such extravagance just to impress others.

    Or maybe I just want to see a King Kong/Game of Thrones crossover.

  2. Then there’s the fun that can be had with what people do to get a hold of the last few surviving monsters in the world.

    Maybe the last Dragon is chained down in a castle, acting as a countries equivalent to a nuclear deterrent. “Attack us and we set him free and the world be damned.”

    Maybe a country is far ahead on enchanting because they have the last clutch of Griffon’s in cages somewhere and are draining their magically potent blood.

    As humanity tames the wilderness and kills the monsters, the last surviving monsters can become valuable commodities. Dungeon Delvers might not be going down into ruins to bring back treasure, but bring back live monsters Hal and Roger Hunt style.

    • Interestingly, that’s what Sarah Zettel does with the phoenix in her Isavalta trilogy. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend them. It’s also a great look at incorporating non-Western mythologies into fantasy worlds and magic systems – particularly Russian and Chinese folklore.

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