It’s a Zombiepalooza double feature – a guest post and a giveaway! Zombiepalooza’s very first guest blog comes from Robert J. Duperre, along with a signed paperback of his novel The Fall! Giveaway info follows after his article…
Facing the Beast
Why we need monsters in our lives
I was a very frightened child. Every creak in the dark, every bug I saw crawling over the windowsill, every thought of never seeing my parents again, filled me with a paralyzing sense of dread. I was prone to high fevers and nightmares I would wake screaming from. Even certain episodes of Sesame Street would send me into a cacophony of tears and petrified mumbles. At one point I remember walking into the living room when my younger sister – who was no more than four at the time – sat alone watching the old Twilight Zone movie. It was toward the end of the John Lithgow vignette, the one with a gremlin on the wing of an airplane. What did I do? I dropped my head into my arms, rolled into a ball, and started to hyperventilate. She, on the other hand, did nothing but laugh.
My fear came to a head when I found out my grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer. Everything came crashing down on me. I became obsessed with my fear of death, of those things out there that wanted to bring an end to me and my loved ones, be they real or ethereal. My parents sent me to talk to a priest, who went on to explain how God has a plan for all of us, and that all would be well in my life if I simply accepted that. I couldn’t. Though his words somewhat calmed me, there was still so much panic I felt at all times, be it riding the bus, walking in the woods, or simply laying my head on my pillow at night.
Then, one day, came John Carpenter’s The Thing, and everything changed.
I was at a friend’s house, maybe twelve years old. His parents were away, and he popped the VHS tape in. I shuddered in the corner as he told me what the movie was about. I wanted to run away, but being on the cusp of my teenage years and wanting to prove my bravery, I swallowed my fear and sat down with him. I watched the movie with my hands on the side of my face, ready to cover my eyes at a moment’s notice. However, as the film went on, I found them dropping further and further towards my lap. By the end, I was enthralled by the creature on the screen, by the amount of terror it bestowed on those trying to fend it off. Compared to my own problems, it seemed to me, this was much worse.
Starting with that moment, I became obsessed with horror. From Barker to King to Romero, I devoured as much literature and took in as many films as I could. There was a sense of relief in the reading or watching of these frightening tales, for no matter how hard my heart raced, at the end I understood that these words and images could not hurt me. It filtered into my everyday life, and when I started writing, I came to the conclusion that these horrors, these creatures that allowed me to face my own demons and helped put the world in perspective, would form the basis of my creative endeavors.
That’s right, folks. Monsters gave me direction and healed my soul. And with that healing came a greater understanding of what they represent.
Since the moment humans developed language, there have been monsters. Tales of these unnatural creatures have been whispered into a child’s ear before bedtime, told around campfires, been dictated into the annals of religion, and jotted down on paper to become some of the most enriching works of fiction the world has seen. They have frightened, angered, and enlightened us over the years.
We need monsters. They are intrinsic to the understanding of our own nature.
In their hellishness, these are beasts that reflect aspects of humanity that we would otherwise purposefully ignore. From the werewolf myths brought about by Herodotus in ancient Greece to the Mesopotamian demon-spirits that evolved into modern-day vampires, they acted as tools of terror that accomplished the dual goals of helping the peoples in these antediluvian societies cope with occurrences that were outside their realm of learning and/or understanding. They are all beautiful in their simplicity and meaning. Werewolves were men made beast, suggesting humanity’s fear of losing control, of becoming something less than human. Vampires are the immortals whose feeding, in its inherent sexuality, reflects a communal fear of intimacy. Zombies, pre-Night of the Living Dead, were everyday folks enthralled by a single master, an illustration of how the quest for power can draw on the souls of the living; post-Romero, they are a metaphor for mindless acceptance of the status quo, for following without questioning.
Through the stories, these creatures have come alive. In many ways, in fact, they have mirrored the progress of society. When religion ruled, these monsters were the paramours of Satan or other lords of the underworld. As the governing theocracies faded, they became things that were simply outside our understanding.
To illustrate this, let us consider Frankenstein’s monster.
Mary Shelly’s man-made fiend is, in many ways, a manifestation of the Jewish golem rewritten for the technological age. And yet it is so much more than that. It demonstrates man trying to be God, and shows how, like their deity, they take this innocent creature and warp it. The monster becomes a scapegoat for everything wrong with the world; though built of human flesh and understanding, it is dehumanized, and in the end is left weeping when its creator – both its god and tormentor – dies. And in its suffering, despite its monstrous appearance – or perhaps because of it – we see ourselves. It serves as a metaphorical death of the godhead as the prime reason for living…as I said, a reflection of its time.
Contrast this with the previously mentioned Night of the Living Dead. Like Frankenstein, a large portion of its plot deals with human fear and cruelty. Unlike Frankenstein, it doesn’t deal with the quest for godliness. Yet, like that classic book, it was groundbreaking. It was one of the first movies to feature an African-American lead. It used the meandering undead as a social commentary on both conformity and the state of racism in the late 1960s. It is also the first example of zombies used en masse, as a wandering horde whose only purpose is to consume, consume, consume. I don’t think I have to explain the metaphor that is trying to get across, do I?
In the end, that’s what they are. Metaphor. And through these living, breathing facsimiles of our deepest and darkest fears, we grow and learn. It allows us to look at our everyday problems through a veil of fantasy, much like it did for me as a child, and lets us process the message while wrapped inside a tight, imaginary bubble.
And as we grow and change, so do they. A perfect example of this would be the Twilight vampires. I won’t get into my problems with the series – the message the books give to young girls being first and foremost on the list – because that’s a complaint for another day. However, when you look at the construction of the creatures, it is fascinating. These sparkly, romantic beasts follow a trend that has been building in horror literature over the last twenty or so years, in which the monsters have become the ideal, in many ways more human than the humans that face them. In every way, these creatures stand in direct opposition to the torture porn that has infiltrated the genre over the past decade. In all of them we see humans behaving badly, as if the evil is sprouting from their very souls, and it is the monsters who are disbelieving, aghast at the horrors we as a people are capable of.
So if the evolution of monsters mirrors the evolution of our society, what does this mean for the state of the world today? At the end of Diary of the Dead, Romero asks, “With all we’ve done, do we deserve to live?” I think this is what they’re trying to tell us. We have to look inside now, to throw pretense to the wind and take responsibility. The planet is in disarray, and it’s becoming a more frightening place every day.
So if we can look at the new progression of these terrors, if we can overcome our fears and even for a moment say, “I know what you’re saying,” we’ll all be better off for it. Then, perhaps, we can look at these monsters and realize, once and for all, that they’ve been us all along.
Robert is giving away a copy of his book The Fall, signed both by himself and the artist Jesse David Young.
An ancient evil, trapped in the ruins of a lost Mayan temple for centuries, has been unleashed. It takes the form of a deadly virus, one that causes violent insanity in the living and the recently departed to rise and walk. It spreads around the globe, throwing the world into chaos and war.
As it progresses, those in the States who find themselves far away from the epicenter watch it unfold with unbelieving eyes. From Washington D.C. to Dover, New Hampshire, regular people are hurled into an existence outside their control, left to deal with catastrophic situations that they are unprepared to handle. Life becomes a nightmare, and that nightmare is spreading.
Robert J. Duperre presents this scenario with The Fall: The Rift Book I, the first of a four-part series. In this book, he throws his characters into a gambit; when the alternatives are life or death, self-preservation or the protection of others, what path will they choose? Is there a darkness that resides in everyone, from every walk of life, that is screaming for release? When society falls apart and we are left to our own devices, will we make the right decisions, or let the tide take us where it may? There is horror, there is death, there are the walking dead, and all around are choices.
The novel is fully illustrated by Jesse David Young, whose drawings capture the intense feel of the events happening within. There are twenty illustrations in all, as well as the cover art he provided. These add to the reading experience and help to throw you, the reader, head-first into the world they have created.
“Opening the pages of The Fall is to delve into a mirror of our own world, that is steadily polluted and warped until a hideous and terrifying new reality bleeds its way beyond the horizon.”
–Michelle Howarth, For more info about Robert J. Duperre or his books, please visit: www.theriftonline.com
Also, for your viewing pleasure, you really need to check out Jesse David Young’s artwork because it’s so intense. His work is what mine and Guillermo del Toro’s nightmares are made of. (I mean that in a good way). His site is: jruined.carbonmade.com
The giveaway for the signed paperback of The Fall has the same rules as the other Zombieapalooza giveaways –
1. To enter to win, comment on this blog, leaving an email address to contact you in case you win.
2. The giveaway runs from now until October 28th at midnight. On October 29th, winners will be chosen by random.org and contacted. They have 72 hours to reply before the prize defaults to the runner-up.
3. Only one entry per giveaway. (But you can enter as many different Zombiepalooza giveaways as you want.)
4. US only. Sorry to our international friends 🙁