Immortal Monster: The Mythological Evolution of the Fantastic Beast in Modern Fiction and Film

Immortal Monster: The Mythological Evolution of the Fantastic Beast in Modern Fiction and Film

Immortal Monster: The Mythological Evolution of the Fantastic Beast in Modern Fiction and Film

Immortal Monster: The Mythological Evolution of the Fantastic Beast in Modern Fiction and Film

Synopsis

Monsters figure prominently in classic works of literature as well as in films and stories intended for a wide audience. Since Darwin's time, most of these imaginary beasts have taken the form of natural creatures, rather than supernatural ones. This volume explores both literary and cinematic texts that are especially explicit in their depiction of beasts in Darwinian terms, though these same monsters retain an archaic mythological aspect. The myth of Leviathan and Behemoth, for instance, is at the heart of Jaws as much as it is central to Moby-Dick; indeed, Jaws inherits the myth directly from Moby-Dick, as does King Kong. These and other monster tales keep the myth alive by retelling it in the context of biological and cultural evolution. There is a pattern of alternating bestialization and anthropomorphism in many monster tales, suggesting that these images are being displayed in repeated attempts to define who we are in relation to animals. As fables of identity, these tales dramatize our anxieties and,fears concerning our own animal nature and help us come to terms with our own evolution.

Excerpt

Five years ago, in the middle of a night after a frustrating attempt to get college sophomores to share my enthusiasm for one of my favorite books, Moby-Dick, I had a teacher's nightmare. I was back in class trying to convince my sullen students that King Kong was a great movie, while they complained that it was filmed in black and white. "Why didn't you show the remake?" one asked as they left in droves. This book came out of that dream, which first suggested to me a link between the monster whale and the monster ape. I soon learned that John Seelye had already thought of it in his 1990 College Literature article Moby-Kong. But I began to see links with other monsters as well. The next semester, teaching a graduate seminar on the impact of Darwinism on modern fiction, I began to realize that fabulous beasts have become reflections of our attempt to come to terms with human evolution, human animality.

Our monster tales tell us a lot more about ourselves than they are usually given credit for. They help us define who we are by displaying images that mingle humanity with animality. Often, the shape, behavior, and fate of the monster reflect various misconceptions about evolution, from the delusion that, as the most highly evolved species, we are entirely separate and distinct from animals, to the notion that we may at any moment "devolve," revert back into the savage beasts from which we evolved. Monster tales almost always raise the question of exactly how we are related to other species. Two opposing paradigms keep recurring: the ideology of the Ladder of Being, which places humans at the top, on a separate rung--and which is quite amenable to racist hierarchy as well--and the ideology of the bushy Tree of . . .

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