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This is what a monster looks like…

March 25, 2010

The eloquent and erudite guest post below is from Through Golden Eyes and functions as a response to my post “What does a monster look like?”

Monsters are among us and they thrive within the realm of our perceptions. The appearance of those monsters change according to the culture wherein we live. For example, during Dante’s time, monsters were horned, tailed, pitchfork carrying devils that were evoked by the huge influence of the Catholic Church. To the Jewish community, monsters were the golems who stalked the land doing the bidding of the conjurer. Even further back in time, Grendel, the monster in “Beowulf,” personified the fear of the unknown to a primitive people.

The present culture always defines the monster of the moment; indeed, the monster is a reflection of societal fears and what that society terms as “the grotesque.” Misha hinted at the serial killers, and they are the monsters of our time. The unknown in this case is the psyche of a person that is twisted in such a way that makes comprehension of it impossible. These killers possess a brutality and savagery that is repulsive to our senses, so that even those killers who walk into a McDonalds and open fire are monsters to us.

Regarding our “Twilight Saga” monsters, I do not see either Edward or Jacob as monstrous. Even as they are so vastly different and embody a transformation that could be considered monstrous, their personae exonerate them. Bram Stoker created the vampire that is dominant in our minds, or was until “Twilight.” The undead, stalking and parasitically living off their victims, sapping the life force, the blood, from their human prey, making that prey, at times, into another undead, For the moment, I will leave Victorian culture aside and focus on the present, but make no mistake, the vampire is purely a textual construct that has pervaded our minds and that has transcended myth into legend. And werewolves? These creatures can be traced to the ancient Romans and Greeks who were the first to write of lycanthropy. But Jacob is not a true werewolf–he is a shape shifter and an extension of the Protean myth of ancient Greece. He takes the form of the wolf, that creature which was monstrous for ages among explorers, pioneers, and people who lived isolated within an unknown, to them, environment.

What saves Edward and Jacob from monstrosity is their penchant for loving. They both love Bella and would do anything for her. But towards society, neither male would condescend to harm anyone unnecessarily. Jacob and his clan are protectors and Edward’s family are vampire “vegans,” consuming only the blood of animals. What Stephanie Meyer has done is that she has taken roles that were historically perceived as monstrous and recreated them into what is seen as present day heroes: protectors of the environment and the creatures that live there.

But who are the monstrous beings of “Twilight?” They are the ones who are written as the more traditional supernatural caricatures in literature and in film. They are the ones with the red eyes that signal their true nature. The Volturi are wicked, giving into their nature, slaughtering large numbers of people in order to perpetuate their own immortality. They also recreate reality so that their will dominates others; this insidiousness is seen when the opportunity to destroy another coven, the Cullens, presents itself through the mistaken identity of the child, Renesmee.

Also, we see others within the books equally as monstrous. The newborn vampires are creatures who give themselves over to their most primitive urges, lacking control or morality in their quest to ease their thirstiness for blood. Of course, we see James, Laurent, and Victoria in the same manner, but as they are more mature vampires, their cunning, ruthlessness, and selfishness makes them monstrous, much like our present day stalker-killers. Victoria’s desire for vengeance transforms her into the most monstrous of the three, as her mission to kill Bella has nothing to do with Bella, per se. What she wants is to remove the “silly,” inconsequential human from the life of Edward, and she will do anything, including making and manipulating more creatures like herself.

Let us not forget about those vampires who Jasper encountered in the Southern US and Mexico. The Southland Wars were the result of an attempt to control the best sources for human blood. People were seen as cattle, and the more people concentrated in one area, the more valuable they became. Jasper, himself, became one of those creatures for about a century, until his conscience and an opportunity to escape that life prevailed. Yet, despite his past and his attack on Bella, we do not see him as monstrous. He appears the victim of another’s will to dominate and also, to his own weaknesses. He is still learning how to be a Cullen, and it is with great anguish that he appears contrite over his actions towards Bella.

What determines our present day monstrousness? Our monsters stand apart from us, incomprehensible, living in the shadows of our consciousness, and personifying the qualities we deem as unexplainable evil. Edward may term himself as a monster, but we know his self-image to be false. Jacob evolves from self-loathing to contentment over his inherited abilities, and yet, we know from the beginning that he could never be a monster. Our monsters are the subconscious fears that our society has endowed upon us, but make no mistake, they are just as fierce and as terrifying as those creatures who once invaded the imaginations of old.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. natalie wilson permalink*
    March 25, 2010 3:44 pm

    Thanks for this great guest post!

    I wrote my PhD dissertation on the grotesque, so I am always happy to come across a reference to this misunderstood literary genre. However, the grotesque is also a largely misunderstood genre — it was not only about the horrific and the monstrous, but also about the humorous. In fact, to be grotesque, something need be horrific/scary and humorous/satiric at the same time. In general terms, it has come to usually mean merely scary. As such, I would say Meyer’s monsters are not really grotesque as they lack the humorous component — the very component that is used in the traditional grotesque to upset social mores and destabilize dominant ideologies.

    I find your claim that “What saves Edward and Jacob from monstrosity is their penchant for loving” intriguing. This seems an idea that truly resonates in our culture — ie, anything is acceptable as long as it’s done in the name of love. I think the series shows that there seems to be a fine line between love and more negative emotions such as the desire to dominate, control, and possess.

    Your reading of J and E as “present day heroes: protectors of the environment and the creatures that live there” has me thinking… Are they protectors of the environment or, instead, of human beings? It seems in their “vegetarianism,” the Cullens quite voraciously consume animals. They also have a penchant for gas-guzzling driving styles and consumerism, neither of which are great for mama earth.

    I really like your read of the “war vampires” and the accompanying analysis of “The Southland Wars.” I personally wished this theme/narrative to be more developed in the series as it seemed an opportunity to critique our current war-happy culture. Even though it makes up only a small part of the saga, I am glad it is there, showing one of the most pervasive monsters of our time – never-ending war.

    Thanks again for this great food for thought!

    • Lila permalink
      March 25, 2010 4:02 pm

      But the question was if they looked like monsters. In no way would I be considered schooled in this at all but I’m curious if the grotesque always equates to monstrosity?

      I also question that E&J’s saving grace is their love for Bella. Their history of not killing humans long preceeds Bella’s birth. In the Cullen’s case they were all vegetarians since their transformation (excepting Edward & Jasper who still both had their “come to Jesus” moment long before Bella was born) and the protector’s goal was always to protect humans… arguably even before Carlisle arrived in America.

      • natalie wilson permalink*
        March 25, 2010 4:15 pm

        Lila, true, I suppose we are approaching “look” from a VERY broad conception.
        As to your question about the grotesque equating to monstrosity, it depends what you mean by monstrosity… One common area of the grotesque that doesn’t have to do w/ monsters is scatology — or, “poop humor.” Swift was very fond of this, as were many other satirists of his age..

    • March 26, 2010 1:12 am

      Talking about war-happy. I wanted to mention that is interesting how many people got pissed off when at the last book diplomacy won the conflict and the Cullens didn’t had to fight. Don’t get me wrong I was disappointed and I wanted a fight, but I didn’t think a lot of it afterward, but a lot other people think of it as ruined the book.
      I mean isn’t our goal to achieve that on real life? To have people to be able to overcome corrupt interests and allow the truth and reasoning to stop a bloodshed? Doesn’t the real disappointment at a lack of deaths says more about us than about Smeyer as a writer?
      Just a thought.

      • natalie wilson permalink*
        March 30, 2010 2:21 pm

        Ana,
        Yes, I think too often we (and especially “we” who grew up in the United States of War) are itching for a fight. We don’t like our leaders to use diplomacy and call them derogatory terms when they do — usually to the effect that they are too “feminine” — ie wimpy, pussy, limp-dicked, etc. I had not thought of this in relation to BD though, and this link is indeed fascinating.
        I wish that our societal goal was to avoid bloodshed and use diplomacy, but sadly it is not — we are addicted to the fight (for a great film on this, see Why We Fight). And I do think this says more about our culture than Meyer as a writer.

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