Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
The nature of a monster is determined partly by the sociopolitical and cultural milieu of its time. It is also determined, in part, by the group of individuals for whom it is an embodiment of one or another fear. For example, the Dracula of Bram Stoker’s novel and the Dracula who appears in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer share the same name and, ostensibly, at least, the same aristocratic and historical backgrounds, but the medieval Dracula is an altogether different vampire than his modern counterpart. Likewise, the invisible man, a scientist named Griffin, who appears in H. G. Wells’ novel, is motivated first by an ambition to make a name for himself, then by theft, and finally by revenge for his old mentor’s betrayal of him, whereas the invisible teenage girl, Marcie Ross, in the “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” episode of Buffy is motivated strictly by revenge : she wants to settle the score with those of her fellow students who have ignored or ridiculed her throughout her school years.
The monster, in other words, reflects the background of its times. Writers retool their villainous fiends and ogres so that they are representatives of the periods that help to spawn them. Since Buffy is a bildungsroman, or a story concerning “the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of a usually youthful main character,” as Yahoo! Education’s dictionary feature defines this term, its monsters tend to reflect the moral, emotional, and philosophical problems and issues that typically confront teenagers and young adults. As the series creator, Joss Whedon, himself puts it, “The show is designed to . . . work on the mythic structure of a hero’s journey. Just to reframe that as the growth of an adolescent girl. . . . The things she has to go through--losing her virginity, dying and coming back to life--are meant to be mythic, and yet they’re meant to be extremely personal” (The Monster Book viii)
Dreams are a good source for obtaining customized monsters. Because no two individuals are the same, their dreams will differ from one another, even when they are about the same general topic, such as vampires or ghosts, and each individual dreamer will project his or her own attitudes, beliefs, emotions, thoughts, and values onto the monsters that he or she creates in his or her dreams. In other words, such nightmarish creatures will reflect the anxieties, insecurities, fears, and worries of the man, woman, boy, or girl who creates these monsters. If monsters are projections of unconscious feelings, they must and will differ with respect to the particular unconscious in which they are rooted and from which they arise. Therefore, in this sense, they will be novel and original.
As individuals, though, no one exists in a vacuum. As John Donne wrote, no one is “an island.” In countless ways, each day we affect one another, as our common culture, language, and society suggests. Therefore, the monsters that any one of us creates in his or her nightmares, while rooted in and arising from his or her own unconscious mind, is also rooted in and arises from the common experience of his or her nation, culture, and species. The monsters that we make are both particular and universal. They are timely when we apply them to our own time and the current events of our day; yet, they also remain timeless, because the hopes and fears of humanity are not those of any particular time and place, but of all times and all places.
Nevertheless, by letting ourselves be inspired, and even guided, to some extent, by, our nightmares, we can render the representations and reflections of our own personal fears and those of our own particular day and age in such a way that the worn and tattered monster is retooled and renewed yet again. . . and again.