The human mind needs monsters. In every culture and in every
epoch in human history, 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 as adversaries to great
heroes. But while heroes have been closely studied by mythologists,
monsters have been neglected, even though they are equally
important as pan-human symbols and reveal similar insights into
ways the mind works. In Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts,
and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors, anthropologist David D.
Gilmore explores what human traits monsters represent and why they
are so ubiquitous in people's imaginations and share so many
features across different cultures.
Using colorful and absorbing evidence from virtually all times and
places, 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. Far from being something
alien, nonhuman, and outside us, our monsters are our deepest
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