Archetype: Mysterious, Suffering Monsters

Mysterious, suffering monsters crop up in our oldest stories, and even our recent ones. Think Grendel, the carnivorous and spiky giant of Beowulf’s tale. Think the hideous Beast of the French fairy tale (and now Disney retelling). Think Boo Radley, the 6’6 shut-in said to dine on raw squirrels in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Grendel by J.R. Skelton

Grendel by J.R. Skelton

They are lonesome beasts blamed for society’s ills and characterized by speculation rather than truth; they are so often a projection and embodiment of our own fears. They may cry out in uncertain terms, but as beastly as they are, we come to realize that they, too, experience pain.

Think the Megrimum in Natalie Babbitt’s Knee-knock Rise.

Chapter 1 (Untitled)
Here lay the heart of the mountains’ charm: here, like Eve’s forbidden fruit, dwelt their mystery, for good or evil. For from somewhere in that mist, on stormy nights when the rain drove harsh and cold, an undiscovered creature would lift its voice and moan. It moaned like a lonely demon, like a mad, despairing animal, like a huge and anguished something chained forever to its own tragic disappointments.

Nobody knew what it was that lived high up in the mist . . . The creature had mourned there for a thousand years, in isolation so splendid, and with sorrows so infinitely greater than any of their own, that the people were struck with awe and respect. Therefore, climbing the cliff was something they simply did not do, and curious children were early and easily discouraged from trying by long and grisly tales which told what might well happen if they did.

From time to time, in the land below the cliff, strange things in fact did happen. A straying sheep would be found slaughtered, a pail of milk would sour, a chimney would unreasonably topple. These things were considered by some to be the work of the creature on the cliff, while others refused to believe that it ever left its misty nest. But they all had their favorite charms against it, and to all of them the cliff was the grandest, most terrible thing in the world. They trembled over it, whispered about it, and fed their hearts to bursting with gleeful terrors.

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Featured image credit: Grendel as portrayed by Crispin Glover in the 2007 film Beowulf


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