Religion, Monsters, and Horror by Rob Shepherd


First of all, I want to thank Michael Schutz for both asking me and also letting me write this post. A lot of which is probably nonsense, except only to myself. And let’s face it, I am hardly difficult to amuse. Thank you Michael, I am very honoured. 

I also wish to remind you to pick up a copy of Blood Vengeance. Michael Schutz is an incredible writer and a genuinely nice guy who I am very proud and honoured to get to know, even just a little bit. 

So, on to the post. I thought long and hard about what to write and what title to give it. I began thinking about this post and promptly wrote some notes about my thoughts and what I had watched and read over. But I realised that to be honest, that would be rather naff drivel. So instead I decided after much pondering to forget a title and found myself reading over some old posts. In a wonderful case of coincidence, or serendipity if you are so inclined to think, found that they were very much on point to the general theme of horror, monsters, writing horror, and the monsters we as authors create, not just in the pages of a book, but in wider life, in the imagination and sometimes in little pieces of folklore and urban legend. So in the end I decided that I would write whatever it is that I thought about. Nothing of earth shattering impact but something to talk about nonetheless. Interesting to me and maybe one other, but also I hope, maybe interesting enough to you as well.

Writing horror and incorporating monsters into those stories, you are compelled to wonder what constitutes a monster and what it is that scares us. Is it monsters in the physical sense and context? Or monsters in the hypothetical concept?

Monsters with devil wings, sharp teeth, you know the type of thing, like werewolves, vampires and demons etc. Or is it ourselves that we are truly afraid of. Preferring instead to visualise and immortalise those that represent the very worst sides of humanity as mythical beasts and devils, the utmost idea of the utterly reprehensible evil. It's easier to promote and face an angry monster that we conjure from the darkness than to face up to our own evil. But assuming that there are monsters out there that are not human, waiting, lurking and preying on the weak of body, soul and mind. Waiting to pounce on the young and the innocent. Cursed souls, whose only purpose is to lure and feed on humanity. Where might those souls come from? Who creates them? God? If this is the case, then what does this mean for Heaven and Hell? Are they or were they created by God at the same time? And if so, are all the monsters—the cursed souls if you will—created by God in heaven first and cast down as demons and such? Is this the reason Hell was created? A place to store the cursed and damned? Or was it created as equal to Heaven? If this is the case, then what is its true purpose? Why would God create it? For what other purpose would God create it? But thinking of these many questions, we find ourselves inevitably led to another question. The ultimate question: Is God both good and evil? Is there actually no Heaven or Hell whatsoever? Or only a heaven or hell that exists within ourselves. That God is actually what we see or envisage as Heaven and Hell. Is God both heaven and Hell?  If we consider this idea, then it brings about the same question yet again, but within another context. If God is both Heaven and Hell, and they are both real, where do all the monsters we know of and write about come from? Are they all just a figment of our wild unabated imaginations? We could—or rather I could—talk from a purely religious perspective on this for hours. Yet, what if it isn't religious at all? What if it is a natural thing. Like flora and fauna, a natural part of the world? What if it is much like Sci-Fi? All these monsters, from demon dogs to banshees and mermaids to zombies and everything in between—what if they could, for instance, come from breaks in realities? Our reality. A hole in the dimentions of time, of space, of other worlds. This would certainly answer some tricky questions. Questions about how they infiltrate our world, our lives, our bodies, even our minds, with apparent disregard of heaven. With seeming lack of acknowledgement by God and the Heavens, which seem powerless to do anything about them. The monsters seem uninfluenced by the Heavens’ power and out of God's control. But this leads us back to the same questions as before. If they exist, why are they here? Why do they want us? What do they want with us? If they exist, then something made them; something evolved them as a creature or species. And if that is the situation, who or what was it?

Ultimately, I think, it all comes down to one thing. Faith. It really doesn't matter if you are religious, agnostic or atheist. It doesn't matter whether you believe in God or not. Everybody, all of us, every person no matter who you are or where you come from, every person needs or feels the need, the overriding desire to believe in something. Basically, this boils down to the one thought. What happens if we give in to the idea that we are all that there is? That means no Heaven, no Hell, no other planets with other life, benevolent or destructive creatures. No Angels or demons, no little faries that greet us at the bottom of the garden, in the woods or at times of solstice. What if we are the extent of evolved life—intelligent and capable of cognitive thought, capable of the most amazing, selfless kindness and gentle tenderness and love? And also pure hatred and the unrivalled ability to perform the most horrific, disgusting and depraved acts to each other, to ourselves and to other life. Then what else is there left for us? What is the point of us being here? Simply to survive like a frog in the Amazon? Even though we have the intelligence, creativity, dexterity, and opposable thumbs to create a vision and build it in 3D. To build a physical representation of ourselves, our icons, our idols, our desires and our dreams. And most basic of all our physical requirements. To build and create new possibilities. We need to believe in monsters, bogeymen, demons, angels and everything in between. We need to believe in a God, a structure and an order to existence so we have a reason to be here, a place to assert blame for the horrific acts of terrifying selfishness that we excel at and seemingly revel in. We need a way to take the blame away from ourselves. We have to create hideous demons and un-earthly creatures to torment us so we have a reason to live, things aspire to by the way of defeating them and a reason to come together as the social, creative intelligence that we are. Monsters are a way of us giving a body to our own denial. A denial of our ability that we wish we didn't possess. A face to our own evil. So monsters, Satan, imps, ogres and dragons are in fact a good thing, because they allow us to divert attention away from our own bad sides, and become a physical embodiment that we can combat together.

At the end of the day, whether monsters are real or just a part of our wild imaginations, forming part of our amazingly rich and varied folk and legendary mythologies, it doesn't really matter, because when push comes to shove, it is a method we’ve employed to perfection in order to come together as a society.

So what's my point? I don't know to be honest. But I guess if anything, it is to remind ourselves that yes monsters are real, but not necessarily as we have recorded them down in history. They help us keep in touch with each other and to realise the better part of ourselves. I get my demons out on the page whereas others excise them in other ways. Think about it, what do you do that helps you to relax and chill out instead of killing things and people? I guess that is the key: monsters are a way to keep us from the worse side of our personality. They represent the worst we can be. And if we give it a body and a name, we can fight it, together.

Sleep tight and remember, there are no monsters under the bed or in the cupboard, well there shouldn't be, but hey, you never know. . . 

So at this point I would like to include the introduction of my book Life With Boris Karloff, because strangely it seems on point and relevant to the subject matter about which I find myself rambling:

Have you ever thought about monsters? Where they come from, what makes them? What monsters actually are?

I have. I used to think about this a lot when I was a kid. In fact, I still do. 

I used to ask myself all those questions and so much more besides. 

But that was before. Like you—like everyone else—I allowed myself to be convinced by conventionalism, pessimism, scepticism and conformity, that monsters don't exist. Only in our minds, our dreams, our imaginations, our fears and of course, in our nightmares. It was driven into me, by conventionalist teachers and authoritarian figures, eventually, how they were nothing but methods by which our parents, teachers, religious leaders and so forth, use to control us and our behaviours. To make us go to bed on time, go to sleep when they want, to go to church, mass, calling whatever, to turn the lights out, to toilet train us. All those things that we are supposed to do to act normally, to be normal. 

I was shamefully brainwashed and hypnotized into believing the common ideal of normality by this flimsy world that we all laughingly refer to as reality. A reality that in truth, if you scratch hard enough, cuts, splits and falls apart, revealing the truth, the true reality by which we walk blindly through, ignorantly and naïvely. I was fooled into thinking like everybody else, like a clone or a flesh covered and manipulated android. I am surprised that we are allowed to keep our names by this faceless, bland, bleak and fake life, instead of just receiving a number when your childhood is ended abruptly and maliciously when you hit puberty. 

Embarrassingly, I let myself to be controlled and manipulated into ignoring all my childhood ideas, beliefs and securities of the infinite world. 

Strange isn't it? Adults are happy for you to believe in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth fairy. It's OK to believe a strange fat man in a bright red winter suit flies across the planet in a sleigh, being pulled by magic flying reindeer, aided by magic elves, delivering presents to children across the globe, sliding down chimneys that are only a foot in diameter. And all in 24 short hours. It's fine to believe that a winged creature will fly into your room while you sleep and swap your baby teeth for cold hard cash. That a large rabbit runs around delivering and hiding chocolate eggs for the world’s sugar hungry, sweet-toothed children (I think the fairy and bunny are in cahoots here), you are told that winged humanoids called angels, and disgusting, mutated and tortured creatures known as demons are real and what you do in this fake life determines who you go to spend eternity with when you die. Yes, all that's just fine, that's perfectly normal. But don't you dare mention the bogeyman, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, goblins, zombies, monsters in the closet, unicorns, gnomes, the Loch Ness monster. No way. These are just myths and we are childish and stupid to believe in such things. That is just plain ridiculous. They were just made up to scare you. Well guess what? As kids, it bloody well worked. We spend our childhood years hoping for a fat man to give us a present that ultimately turns out to be a pair of ugly pyjamas, which we have to be thankful for, while we cower at the thought of some gruesome creature appearing in the night to drag us to some kind of unmentionable place of horror and torture because we are awake or didn't wash before bed. 

Well let me tell you something. For years, as a delusional child—and as a weirder teenager—Ibelieved their lies. I began to scoff at the idea of the Jersey devil, the moth-man, of Frankenstein's monster, of Count Dracula, the hunch back of Notre dame and all the so-called myths like these. 

But right now, I can be very honest with you. I can truthfully say that they do scare me. They scare the pants off me, they scare me to the point where that little bit of wee comes out. And you know what? They are meant to. And there is a very good reason for that. It is because they are not myths, stories, legends or fairy tales. They are real. They are as real as you or I. 

I would like to finish this post off by saying that I work to a train of thought, a simple ideology that I summed up for myself in one brief sentence, which encompasses everything I do. It shapes me. It gives birth to swirling notions that morph into ideas, forges the stories and urges, even drives me on to what I strive to do in the future, no matter what it is. That train of thought, that idea, that all- enveloping notion if you will, is simply: 

“To write your dreams of fantasy, is to create fantasy in another’s dreams.”

If I am able to do this just once, to one person, then I can say deep within myself that I have done, I have achieved, what I wanted to. However, the best thing is that it is a sentence that drives me on, carries me further and further to achieving that goal with more and more people. People, if I am lucky, like you.