Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Monsters by David Gilmore

I've been meaning to read this book for a while, but the NLB didn't have it. Luckily I got one more free month of Scribd, so this was the first book I picked up.

Monsters is an overview of the monsters throughout the world. And this time, it really is an overview of monsters throughout the world, rather than monsters in Europe.

For the record, a monster is defined as "supernatural, mythical, or magical products of the imagination [...] monsters are imaginary, not real, embodiments of terror." The book specifically excludes humans turned bad (witches, wizards, zombies), and real things, like mass murderers, even if the label can apply.

While there is slightly more emphasis on monsters in the west - The Windigo gets its own chapter, plus another for American monsters, and two chapters for European monsters, compared to the two chapters for the East - the author does touch on Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Polynesian monsters.

Oh, and by the way, the chapter entitled "Japan and the Pacific Islands" is more about the islands than it is about Japan.

While this book is fairly academic in style, it's still readable. You shouldn't go in expecting a conversational telling of the various myths and legends, because there is none of that. It's an overview of how people react to and live with 'monsters', and what that means about us. In fact, my favourite part of the book was the discussion of what monsters may mean. Despite the various types of monsters, they all have a few things in common, like their size, their type, and such. The concluding paragraph sums up monsters pretty well, in my opinion:

"The power of monsters is their ability to fuse opposites, to merge contraries, to subvert rules, to overthrow cognitive barriers, moral distinction, and ontological categories. Monsters overcome the barrier of time itself. Uniting past and present, demonic and divine, guilt and conscience, predator and prey, parent and child, self and alien, our monsters are our innermost selves." 

If you're interested in a study of monsters, I highly recommend this book.

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