1. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    Creating unique monsters that are symbolic in a philosophical/psychological way

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by FireWater, Jul 16, 2016.

    Does anyone have any examples -- either that you've come up with yourself, or that you've seen portrayed in a book or movie -- of situations where a monster in fantasy is symbolic of something philosophical or psychological? Both the monster itself, and the way that the characters kill/defeat it.

    I'm working on a novel that's primarily sci-fi, but the section/sequence I'm working on now is more like fantasy in terms of the freedom I have to create whatever kinds of creatures I want. I'm in a part where my characters are on a brief journey through a forest and a river, and I have maybe 2-3 chapters to explore the types of creatures and encounters they will have there. I want my creatures/monsters to be more than just random creepy stuff that I create - I want them to have meaning too, both in terms of what they are and how the characters handle them.

    I don't mean trope monsters like zombies and vampires and werewolves, but monsters that are unique to the story they're in.

    The examples that currently come to my mind are:

    --The Babadook: both what the monster represents, and the psychological symbolism of how they deal with it at the end (I don't want to give spoilers for anyone)
    --the Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth (representative of the fascist villain, Captain Vidal)
    -- The frog in Pan's Labyrinth is representative of the destructive power of corruption
    -- All of the fear-trials in Divergent are symbolic of facing your own inner fears (i.e. a situation where you have to break out of a glass cage represents having to break down the internal barriers of fear that you limit yourself with)


    I'm looking for things that could be found in either a forest/river situation - monsters that are "organic" as opposed to something robotic/mechanical or spiritual/"demon-like."

    Would love to bounce and discuss more ideas! :)
     
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  2. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    The Despair Squid whose ink causes absolute despair in its prey and removes the fight or flight response. (nicked from Red Dwarf)
     
  3. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    I'd say pretty much most of Clive Barker's monsters are symbolic/philosophical. Too many to number, but the Books of Blood and Cabal is a great starting place for monsters, Weaveworld and Imajica for mythical beasts.
     
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  4. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    The Iad Ourobourus in Barker's Everville are an epic monstrosity. When Barker is great he is sublime...
     
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  5. Sapphire at Dawn
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    Sapphire at Dawn Member

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    Will in the His Dark Materials series wonders at one point whether Spectres are a kind of manifestation of certain mental illnesses. He sees someone getting caught by a Spectre and exhibiting very similar behaviour to his mother when she's ill. Spectres are unknown in Will's world (our world) but he wonders if they are actually there and only certain people, people who are mentally ill, can see them and it triggers their behaviours.
     
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  6. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    I love the Dark Materials trilogy. It's my favorite story to date, even though I first read it at age 20. The climax of how they destroy hell in the end moved me immensely and the entire thing is such a profound work of art.

    I looked up the other suggestions too. Those are all really cool, and I can definitely see the symbolic power in them.

    Currently, for my own story, the types of monsters I'm working with are:

    1. A monster type that's brute cannibalistic humanoid and implied to be the result of mutation/distortion, similar to Orcs, or the monsters in movies like Hills Have Eyes/The Descent/etc. In my novel, the monsters would have overtaken my MC's easily in terms of physical strength and numbers. But, the way the MC's "defeat" them is by their use of critical thinking, which the monsters don't have. The monsters are unthinking followers of a very primitive religion, which the MC's are able to manipulate, causing the monsters to believe that my MC's are gods and thus follow their bidding. They are symbolic of the "horde mind" fallacy/groupthink, or the way people can "lose themselves" by forgoing all independent thought and becoming slaves to a hive. This scene/sequence is fully outlined and I'm all set on the creatures I've developed.

    2. I have a scene (outlined but not yet written) where my characters are traveling in a small boat down a river, and they encounter an area where the water is bottomless/affected somehow. Due to the geographical setup, going to shore and passing by that area on land is not physically possible, so boating through that area is the ONLY way forward. I've always loved how in dream interpretation and symbolic analysis, deep water/rivers are like an allegory for facing the deeper parts of one's self, and I'm trying to create a [unique] monster that I can use to play off this. This is one where I"m drawing a blank - any ideas? Of course I don't want anyone to do my work for me lol, but more in terms of ideas to consider or probing questions that might help me develop this further on my own.

    3. I have a quicksand-based monster that's based on the philosophy of not letting yourself become complacent/"stuck." In this scene, the characters are crossing through a muddy/swampy area, and they see horrifically grotesque creatures in the mud, with small insect-like things that are feeding off them. The creatures aren't coming after them, and the characters' focus is at first on trying not to disturb/alert them. However, as they progress, it turns out that the insect-things sting and cause hallucinations that would drive a person to terror and madness and thinking that the only way to stay safe is to bury into the mud, which would of course cause death eventually. The "monsters" are actually victim animals that had fallen prey to this and been warped by the properties in the mud/insects, and the scene is symbolic of people who become bitter and afraid of the world and start to atrophy in a complacent state.

    I have room for a few other "forest creatures," and I'd like to have at least a few more because I want to richly develop the world they're in for this part of the story. However, I don't want to just come up with random stuff that's fascinating/creepy just for the sake of it - I want it to be meaningful somehow, like the examples from above. I could use help with these, plus fleshing out the water monster/obstacle.

    Also, I like the idea of one of them being based off the idea that something seems innocent/small at first, but is actually a part of something horrifying and much larger. One idea/image I had is where the characters are walking along a narrow path through a forest and they see something poking up out of the ground, like a bird beak sticking up out of the dirt, but it turns out that it's part of something giant and predatory that hides under the ground. (This could also be symbolic of dangerous things seeming innocuous from the outside) But I"m not sure exactly how I'd craft the scene of what I could do with it.

    any thoughts? :)
     
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  7. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    Been bingeing on Doctor Who.

    Daleks - fascism/racism. Kill everything different.
    Cybermen - communism/colonialism. Make everything different like us.
    Planet Midnight - loss of identity
    Sontarans - militaristic indoctrination
    The Hadrojassicwhateverthefrig thing from Satellite Five - manipulation of society by the media
     
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  8. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    Cool, thank you! :)
     
  9. Shattered Shields
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    Shattered Shields Gratsa!

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    The first thing to come to mind would probably be the Wendigo. It held a place in Algonquin mythology as a spirit of decay, greed, and murder.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendigo
    Here ya go.
     
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  10. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    Oh-- and for the aquatic monster of the subconscious, a Lovecraftian cuttlefish monster would work. Cuttlefish are known to use their lights to hypnotize prey, and seem to pretty intelligent, with some biologists theorizing they have a rudimentary language. Some kind of river kraken, smaller and more intelligent than its marine counterpart, maybe?
    As for the seemingly innocent forest creature, maybe some little Tinkerbell type fairy, super cute and helpful, who guides the party through treacherous terrain, only to lead them to the hive to be devoured.
     
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  11. Dearest Mothership
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    Dearest Mothership Member

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    I once read somewhere that Medusa's decapitation is somehow related to castration. It's very Freudian in flavor. Further research strongly advised.
     
  12. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    The whole Medusa thing is a mess. She was a mortal woman who was raped by one of the gods (I want to say Poseidon, but Zeus was basically the Greek god of having sex with literally everything in sight). Athena, ironic goddess of wisdom, then either punished her for being raped, or "helped" her (depending on the version) by turning her into a gorgon. Pretty wise, right? Especially considering she'd later send Perseus to kill her.
     
  13. Dearest Mothership
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    Dearest Mothership Member

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    Indeed. It's one of those things you can make about anything if you try hard enough.
     
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  14. Shattered Shields
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    Shattered Shields Gratsa!

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    Well, the tale, in the way I know it, goes like this. Medusa was a priest of Athena, doing priesty things in one of her temples, when Poseidon turned his godly gaze upon her. Being a Greek God, he promptly decides to warp into the temple and rape the poor priestess. Athena is furious, since she's a maiden goddess and her sacred space has been defiled. Since she can't punish Poseidon, she goes after Medusa, turning her into a monster and throwing her out of the temple.

    The Greek deities were known for being hypocritical and downright human in their behavior. The story of Medusa most likely mirrors many a sad story in the days of the Greeks.
     
  15. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    Frankly, Hestia was the only one who wasn't an epic turd.

    Scylla and Charybdis could be seen as representing manic violence and consuming despair.
     
  16. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    One of my MCs is based off a deadly plant, so she walks a fine line between killer and healer, as you know most poisons not only can kill but save lives as well. This contradiction is the basis for her entire entire culture.
     
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  17. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Symbolic monsters? Not many I can think of save of course Lovecraft's old ones etc. But weird and surprising I can do.

    In Wildling I created the snap dragon - a creature that's basically a small copse of trees that can uproot itself and creep around, looking somewhat like a giant lizard in nature, as it hunts for prey. Ie plant eats animals. And since it doesn't have teeth and a digestive system, it kills its prey by crushing it. It creeps up on its victims, and then there's a sudden downward thrust of one of its legs on its unsuspecting victim which more or less blends it with a snapping sound (hence the name). Then it settles down to let the rain etc rot the dead creature down so it can absorb the nutrients released through the soil. Having no organs, eg brain or heart et, it's almost unkillable, and since its made out of branches etc, spears and swords are useless against it. But my MC's killed it by launching flaming arrows at it, then running away and waiting for it to burn to ashes.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  18. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Silent Hill!!!!
     
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  19. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    Stephen King is a master of this. Pennywise feeds on fear. The overlook Hotel and the house in Salem's Lot both feed on evil events caused by bad human beings. Stanley Kubrick also had the brilliant idea in The Shining so that any time Jack sees a ghost, he's facing a mirror.
     
  20. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    These are my interpretations upon these mythical beings.

    The Sirens
    , in The Odyssey. (Their entrancing songs would lure the sailors into getting out of their way. They are considered either godess deities of water, love and death, either as sea demons. They were created as nymphs originally. They have the head of a beautiful woman and the body or a vulture. They would destroy the ships and eat the crew). They can be perceived as lust or even addiction (You know... Getting you out of your way and all, in order to later destroy you).

    The Sphynx. (She had the body of a lion, wings and the head of a woman. She would guard a passage and she would pose a riddle to the seeker. If the seeker answered correctly, she would permit him access. If not, she would kill him). That can be perceived as a one-way road. When you've went so far in order to achieve whatever it is that you were aiming and you've reached the point where it's all or nothing. Either go forward either die trying. No way back anymore. Another way this may be perceived (from the Sphynx P.O.V.) is that only the brave and capable (wise and clever) are worthy of higher knowledge and power. If you are not ready you will get consumed.

    Lernaean Hydra. (She had the body of a serpent and many snake-heads. Whenever you decapitated one of them, another two would show up). Meaning that brute force is not always the answer. You need calmness and patience in order to realize how things work first and then come up with a strategic plan in order to win this situation. Panic and fear lead to more problems.

    Kronos. (He is the youngest and less powerful of the Titans, but much cleverer and ambitious as well. After he allied with his mother, Gaia (Earth), he managed to overthrow his father, Ouranos (Sky). Because he was afraid that this would eventually happen to him too, he ate his children. Ironically he was right. He got defeated by his son, Zeus). Time eating its children, for nothing lasts for long. Maybe because, Kronos resembles Hronos which means time.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2016
  21. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    The Sirens are neither deities nor demons. (Also saying goddess and deity is redundant)
    And yes, Kronos was god of time.
     
  22. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    The Sirens were perceived as many different things in ancient Greece and their origins had many different versions. They were used a lot in mythology. From the perceptive of the sailors, they were considered demons for their deceiving nature. Another myth says that they were originally nymphs and escorts of Persefoni. When Persefoni was abducted by Hades, her mother, the godess Dimitra gave the Sirens the body of birds in order to have them seek her out with better efficiency. They failed to find her and settled on an island where they would lure sailors with their enchanting songs and then kill them. (Don't ask me why. Maybe because they had turned against men). But there are many different versions depending on the storyteller.

    Kronos was not a god and never in the Greek mythology has he been co-related with time. (At least as far as I know). The parable might suggest it or it might not. He was a Titan.
     
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  23. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Oop, checking up on it, that's actually an invention of the Romans that's perpetuated in fiction. Kronus was the personification of time, Chronos was Titan of the Harvest.
     
  24. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    i like your analysis.
     
  25. Dearest Mothership
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    Dearest Mothership Member

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    I love that. But what about the Sphinx killing herself after Oedipus solves her riddle?
     

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