All good things come to an end–so they say. This is my last Friday guest post, at least for a while. It’s been such fun having a series of wonderful Friday posts from my guests that are very different that I may do this again, real soon.
Today my Friday guest blogger is Thea van Diepen. You can visit Thea at her blog Expected Aberrations .
Thea is a college student at MacEwan University, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and she can’t wait for university to be over and stop interfering with her life! For a test in grade three, Thea was supposed to write a story that included a kid hiking with their parents in the mountains, even though she wanted to write a fantasy. In order to get marks, she started with the hiking scene, then made the kid fall through a portal into another world and wrote whatever the heck she wanted for the next half hour. Nowadays, Thea doesn’t write for marks, and her fantasy is much improved by the lack of family hiking trips.
Why So Fascinated?
At the time of writing this, it’s Halloween season, so I have monsters on my mind.
Internal Editor (Anton): When don’t you have monsters on your mind?
Me: When I’m eating? I’m pretty sure I’m thinking about food right then.
Anton: *raises eyebrow*
Ok, as Anton pointed out, I think about monsters a lot. That is to say, I think about creatures of otherness a lot. You know the ones: fairies, centaurs, zombies, sirens, elves, nymphs… if it’s mythological, it’s been mental subject matter. Because I’m a Christian, this fascination can be controversial. Most of these monsters are out-and-out evil (Count Dracula, anyone?), and yet they catch my sympathy. Many are terrifyingly amoral, and yet they engross me. I read stories of creatures doomed for whatever reason, and my heart cries: “This! This is beautiful.”
Why am I so fascinated?
But let’s not think only about me. Every single culture has stories of things that are not human, things that don’t fit with the ordinary, beings that are at once unsettling and awe-inspiring. What the question really should be is: Why are we so fascinated?
Because they are us.
They are us in our complexity. No creature means just one thing. The mermaid can represent a seductress and harbinger of doom; a pure, searching soul; or a holder of mysterious, alien and yet infinitely desirable. Just like each of them, each of us has different sides, different personas, different roles. Yet, even as we give names to multiple meanings or facets of personality, each creature represents a single idea, just as we each represent ourselves. Some could say that the mermaid represents what we both fear and are drawn to in womanhood, and that different perspectives bring to light different interpretations of what that truly means. She can also represent a question we have about ourselves: When the storm comes, am I the one who called it, or am I the one warning others of the danger?
They are us in our duality. Surrounded by a mass of seeming contradictions, acting sometimes for good and sometimes for evil, acting without thought of morality, explained and unexplainable, they represent the tension that we do not like to admit exists within everything human, from the world as a whole down to a single individual. Fairy godmothers bless and help their charges, and yet fairies steal children and replace them with changelings. These creatures may dance and sing as freely as children, and yet they are deadly in their anger, fatal in their displeasure. The things that please them make no sense and the things that they flee from we see as harmless. We decry them as unnatural, forgetting what we have done and do. The same hands that could heal a child of illness could also throw that child into an incinerator. Or brainwash it to become a soldier. Our voices can cause torment as well as bring joy. And they do. All these things, they do. Yet, we are still human, caught in the middle of paradox upon paradox.
What purpose could these monsters serve? If they unnerve us so, why not simply forget about them and think on more pleasant things?
If something has the power to connect with us that deeply by simply standing in our field of vision, we do ourselves harm by banishing it before we have seen it dance.
When we bring these creatures into our stories, we give them breath, make them active. Within the story, they now have the power to warn, encourage, explain, challenge, praise and deconstruct. In the wrong hands, they can be used to bring shame, guilt, fear and bigotry. In the right hands, they can bring joy, wonder, confidence and peace. The Chronicles of Narnia come to mind, as does the Lord of the Rings, of course, but there also are a great many fairy tales. “The Bremen Town Musicians”, for example uses elderly, talking animals who want to become musicians to show that the things we have given up on may not be as useless as we think.
So, how does all this fit into my Christian faith?
I have been discovering lately that when many people hear the word “Christianity”, they think of a religion that has everything to do with getting to heaven and avoiding hell. One must believe in God to gain access to heaven, obey a list of “thou shalt not”s to keep access to heaven, and ostracize from yourself everyone and everything that isn’t “Christian” to keep yourself from being contaminated and being sent to hell for it. I do realize that not everyone thinks this, however, I also realize that many people, Christians included, myself included have or have had a lot of this mentality in less extreme forms. And this mentality allows monsters only as morally black-and-white beasts, metaphors that can only ever be good or evil, because one must have absolute certainty of how the world works, and grey is much too messy to add to the mix.
To me, Jesus didn’t come to the world to give us a free pass to heaven. He came to show us who we really are, who God really is and give us a blank slate so that nothing could ever again separate us from God, and heaven comes as a natural result of that. Jesus died for us because God loves us. Messed up as we are, he wouldn’t love us if he didn’t see in us something worth loving–whether that something exists or has the potential to exist. That is, he loves us because he sees us as all he meant to be. Christianity then becomes our journey of becoming who we already are in God’s eyes. If we then take into account that monsters are us then, suddenly, we imbue fiction with a power we have never before considered. Here’s what I mean:
Monsters, used well, become mirrors. They show us who we are, who we are not, and who we are becoming. They force us to think critically. If we are now the werewolf, do we want to become the human or the wolf? Which path do we already find ourselves walking, and do we want to stay there?
More than reflecting back what we expect, monsters can also give us new perspectives on old things. For example, vampires may have once been utterly evil, corrupt creatures, irredeemable, yet now they are portrayed sympathetically, struggling with who they are and how they work, striving to become more than what the world has made them. It strongly reminds me of Paul’s complaint in the Bible: “For what I want to do I do not do, and what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15, NIV). Compare ourselves: perhaps at one time we saw ourselves as unreachable, lost to darkness, powerless in face of the forces around us. Then we discover that we were meant to be more than what we had always thought. Instead of hiding, we could be a lamp in a lamp stand, illuminating the entire house. Yet, we struggle with what we have always done, with the things we have always seen as an unalterable part of who we are. Can we ever find freedom? Folklore about vampires says they cannot ever be anything but a vampire until someone kills them. Why do we believe that, once soiled, we can never again become clean? Even in the darkest days of human history, God never gave up hope. As he hung on the cross, dying the most painful death anyone has ever imagined, Jesus asked God to forgive his murderers, because they didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t know what he was doing for them.
And my dad thinks that nothing good can come out of vampire stories. 🙂
All these creatures, whether we despise them or praise them, can expose the truth of what we hold in our hearts and bring clarity to difficult situations, even if not much and not be as intellectual as we like. If we choose to listen to the challenge inherent in this kind of vulnerability and act on what we learn about ourselves, I wonder what might happen. It’s funny, monsters have just as much potential to change the world as we do, but they do their best work when they’re simply telling a story. Then again, what is story, if not another way of thinking about the world?