Should there be a Canon of Monsters?

Should zombies run quickly, or should they shuffle along? Should vampires sparkle? Or should vampires look monstrous? Fans of 28 Days Later would argue with fans of Night of the Living Dead*, just like fans of the Twilight books would argue with fans of Nosferatu (Even Anne Rice couldn’t help but set off a firestorm when she weighed in on the sparkle issue). But can one side be “right”? Should one side be right?

When I think of classic monsters, I tend to think of characters from classic books or films: Dr. Jeckyll, Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and Wolfman. But is that the only way we should think of monsters? As something static? A cliche, stock character? Or should monsters be malleable concepts? I would argue the latter is probably the better approach.

First, monsters are best understood as products of their time. Shelley wrote Frankenstein at a time when electricity was used to experiment on animals. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was a comment on consumerism. Godzilla was a metaphor for nuclear weapons. To make monsters static would mean that monsters would cease to terrify over time. To stay relevant, they need to adapt to current fears.

Second, to lock monsters down to a certain form will severely restrict artists who wish to employ those monsters. This will also lead to fewer new readers or watchers enjoying monster movies or books–because the genre will cease to be “new” after a while. It will be reduced to a niche. If monsters are strictly defined, we wouldn’t have movies like Predator or Alien (modern takes on killer monsters chasing victims through the woods or a “haunted house”).

For the record, I like my zombies to move slowly, my vampires to pay a terrible price for immortality, and my wolfmen to have nards. But I also think that even if it means sparkly vampires, monsters should be allowed to change with the times. While certain monsters can be considered “classic,” it’s probably best if no one tries to defend a narrow, strictly-defined canon. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pay for the privilege of getting the crap scared out of me.

*28 Days Later fans would be incorrect by the way. This is not a zombie movie, but an outbreak movie. They are not zombies. They suffer from a “rage virus.” So there. Slow zombies forever!

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