Nov. 3rd, 2014 06:00 pm
mirrorshard: A book growing from a tree branch, captioned "Books where fruit should be". (Books where fruit should be)
We all have our own favourite mythological monster. (Mine is the selkie, though I have a soft spot for the manticore.) But there are some who turn up ever and again, in so many variations - vampires, werewolves, mermaids, elves, zombies, witches & wizards - and there's one thing that they all have in common, which the less successful varieties don't. They take you out of this view of the world and into another, and if you're lucky you'll get to be like them - if you aren't, you'll have to watch your friends changing sides first. They can all do so much more than kill you.

Vampires exude dangerous and polymorphous sexuality, and the way to render them harmless is to enact missionary position on them. (Seriously, Dracula is destroyed - in the original - by van Helsing kneeling on top of his prone form and hammering a three-foot piece of wood into him from above.) They're positioned as the Other by casting them as predatory women - there's one male vampire in the original, Dracula himself, and it's actually made a feature of in the book that he does all his own domestic duties, which in the 19th century was even more of a thing than it is now. First Lucy and then (nearly) Mina are seduced to the dark side, and on them it looks just as tempting as the original Brides of Dracula do to Jonathan - specifically, lots more feminine imagery and lustful behaviour, which of course was considered a specifically feminine mode of Bad Manners. Even the Twilight style vampires keep the "if you are worthy you can join us and Become Awesome" aspect, when they keep nearly nothing else.

Werewolves are uncontrolled violence and the pure fuzzy essence of dick-waving. They're nothing like real wolves (though there was this one series I read recently, where they behaved much more interestingly - one, out of hundreds) but are instead the distilled & uncut essence of Those Guys The Writer Went To School With. But, unlike Those Guys, they've got the narrative potential to accept you, make you one of them, give you furry superpowers, and then admire you for not giving in to the urge to rip everyone's teeth out. Or, of course, they might just eat you, but nobody tells them they have to be elegant and restrained and use the right fork for your liver.

Mermaids are another interestingly gendered one. Women & feminine-of-centre genderqueer people tend to be much more attracted to mermaids as a concept than men do, probably because it's men they choose as their victims, dragging them down into the deep cool depths of a thinly disguised metaphor. It's not normal to become a mermaid, but their equivalent - the selkie - is something that anyone could return to being.

Elves (faeries, sidhe, the Tylwyth Teg) are famed for stealing children & poets, and anyone who escapes - or who's returned - comes back Interestingly Broken in an awesome sort of way. We all dream of that - of having a disability that makes narrative sense and actually gives you something in return, that you can find an actual reason for. And if you're as awesome as Sir Huon of Bordeaux, you may even become King of Faerie yourself.

The mere existence of zombies changes the world you live in: it becomes survival horror, because eventually, no matter what you do, these things are going to come after you. They are your future, and you will become either one yourself, or its brutalized reflection, the zombie hunter. If zombies exist, you have no choice but to step up to the plate and become awesome.

Concerning witches & wizards - again, their existence changes your world. The possibilities become so much more possible. Even just by meeting one, you learn so much more about the way the world works, and they teach you: yer a wizard now, Harry, and those mean girls are in So Much Trouble. Like it or not, you'll never see the world the same way, and you've got a job to do, whether your name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden or Juanita Louise Callahan.
mirrorshard: A book growing from a tree branch, captioned "Books where fruit should be". (Books where fruit should be)
Some of you had the "pleasure" of hearing extracts from The Bone Sword, by Walter Rhein, last week. I've now finished a full review; you can read it over at The Future Fire.

I am pleased, because I have finally found an excuse to recommend a close reading of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland to a fantasy author.


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