My kids used to ask, "Dad, what's your favorite animal?". I would reply, "My favorite animal is... the monster". This happy memory got me wondering, why do I like monsters? Maybe because a monster is a mystery.
Before we go on, what kinda monster do I mean? I'm talking about celebrated monsters of legend, literature, and film. The word can refer to monstrous criminals like Charles Manson or Tim McVeigh, but the question there is how a heart could be so twisted. We're discussing mystery, not evil.
Monsters aren't real, but they may be based on something real. Some observation is misinterpreted, transformed in the telling, until a fearful beast is born. Why do we do that? Are we just expressing our fears or trying to manage them? I think monsters are social constructs which move our thoughts from one state to another. From fear to resolve, from grief to acceptance, from anger to forgiveness, from hate to understanding. This is the importance of transformation, and transformation is what makes a monster.
Some monsters begin as humans, like Dracula, Wolfman, zombies or Frankenstein's monster. Desire, rage, and alienation transform these people into something different. They're scary because they represent our inner fears and insecurities. Some monsters are creatures from another time or place, like Bigfoot, "Nessie", and Chupacabra. Our familiar world is transformed by their arrival. They're scary because they represent the unknown.
A monster doesn't have to embody fear. Monsters can be symbolic. King Kong is the outsider empowered. Godzilla is a metaphor for the threat of nuclear war. When we identify with monsters, their power encourages and inspires us in our daily life. We may not consciously recognize this, but we sense it.
Some stories have happy endings, some don't. Some stories have no ending at all, the monster is just "out there" somewhere. How it ends is unimportant. What matters is that they exist. By telling a story we create a model. The model separates reason from emotion so we can think about whatever the monster represents. One more thing, maybe there isn't any problem to be solved. Maybe the monster is a gateway to life's mystery, a symbol for us of the unexplained, the undiscovered and the undefeated.