The Monsters That Make Us: Things That Go Bump in the Mind

Source: Beast of Gévaudan/Public Domain

Monster comes from the Latin monstrum, meaning something unnatural or unpleasant.  Early thinkers thought a monster was some malfunction of nature.  There are plenty of monsters in classical mythology.  For example, Cerberus is a three-headed dog with a serpent for a tail.  Called “the hound of Hades,” Cerberus guards the gates of the underworld to keep the dead from leaving.  A serpentine water monster, the multi-headed hydra poses a unique problem as it regenerates two (or more heads) for every head severed making it difficult to kill.  Medusa, a gorgon, has wings and venomous snakes in place of hair.  Looking at her directly turns the viewer to stone.

Of course, monsters are not found only in times past; we can find plenty of them in the modern era as well.  Frankenstein’s Monster or the Creature comes from Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus written in 1818 by Mary Shelley.  The novel details Victor Frankenstein’s assembling and animation of a person from various body parts of deceased persons.  King Kong, the gigantic ape, first appears in the 1933 movie of the same name.  In 1954 Godzilla debuts as an enormous prehistoric sea monster. 

There are also friendly monsters such as the Assyrian lumasi (singular lamassu), protective deities with a human head, the body of a bull or a lion, and bird’s wings that originate from the ancient Mesopotamian religion.  Moving to the twentieth century we…

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