I have been vaguely following, with a sense of impeding doom, the US presidential election. Now, I can’t pretend that the political landscape in the UK is in any way sane or stable, but at least we don’t have a Trump-like candidate. It’s a low bar but I continue to be grateful we meet that.
If Trump – or any Republican candidate, for that matter – does get into the White House, the result will very likely be zombies. I mean that fairly literally. The popularity of certain monsters goes in circular trends and, according to this article, is strongly linked to the dominant political party of the time.
Okay, so it’s an article by Cracked.com. Not the internet’s most reliable source of information. But it makes several good points, the most important of which is an awareness of what your audience currently fears. If you want to create an adversary that is genuinely scary for your readers, work out what the fears of contemporary society are and riff on that.
The rise of the Slenderman myth is a perfect example of this. It taps into the digital zeitgeist of Big Brother always watching, of ignorance in the age of information, of facelessness when identity has never been more stressed.
When creating your story, or building your world, you can take this further. The monsters of your fictional societies are a great way to show (not tell) the base fears of that society. If they fear werewolves, that might suggest a society with an emphasis on controlled emotions and protocol. If they fear witches, that might suggest a strongly patriarchal society. Monsters are the epitome of Other – by defining Other you therefore define Normal, and vice versa.
The definition of ‘monster’ can get fluid, and this is where you need to be a bit careful. Orcs could be called monsters of Middle Earth, for example, but they are a sentient and civilised (in the strictest definition) race. Vikings were considered as bad as werewolves by 9th Century Europeans, and the Ancient Greeks viewed the Ancient Persians in a similar light. Make sure you know the difference between ‘monster’ and ‘foreigner’; between ‘other’ and ‘same but different’.
Yes, Trump, I’m looking at you.