I like monsters. It says so right over there (>>>) in my little bio blurb! Whether they’re monstrous on the outside or on the inside (or both) makes no difference — I love ’em all. Because what makes a so-called monster monstrous is that it’s different from the rest of us in a way that’s perceived to be dangerous, which (in my opinion) makes them fascinating. That’s why B is for Beasts.
I’ve always been compelled to do things that scare me. Going into Hot Topic for the first time as an 11 year old after my dad insisted the store was “demonic” (my dad’s not a fan of death metal XD ); eventually reading Johnny the Homicidal Maniac all the way through despite being scared shitless the first time I picked it up (and it opened to a panel featuring a dismembered corpse in a bathtub full of blood. I wanted to cry.); getting pierced in various places; getting tattooed; and befriending the loners who other people made fun of or who seemed standoffish/mean. I needed to know what all of these things and people were really like.
People made fun of me, too, for being weird, but I thought I was a pretty good person all things considered. Therefore, I figured there must be more to those other folks who got harrassed, too. And, perhaps predictably, every single time, those “weirdos” actually turned out to be some of the coolest, most interesting, and most accepting people I had ever met. But that’s the way, isn’t it? The things that scare you tend to become less frightening the more you learn about them. Monsters are the figurative embodiment of what every society fears most. Once you unpack that fear, there’s no telling what you’ll discover — about those beings and about yourself. (FYI, this is kinda what my thesis is on. Sorry y’all, but it’s taking over my life!)
Here are a few of my most favorite beasts.
1. The Beast, Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Everyone knows this guy, right? Well in case you don’t, he’s a prince who, as a preteen, is transformed by a sorceress disguised as an old hag into a monster because he turned her away when she came to his castle seeking shelter. The only way to break this curse is for someone he loves to return his love, despite his appearance, before the last petal of the enchanted rose the sorceress gave him falls on his 21st birthday. When we meet the prince again 10 years later (“10 years we’ve been rusting…”), he has (understandably, you might say) become the royal French equivalent of the old guy who sits on his porch with a gun and screams at anyone who even thinks about coming near his house.
First, can I just say that kids can be jerks? Especially kids who are used to having it all. It’s through years of life experience and help from the grownups in your life that you either learn to be kind, or become an even bigger jerk. My point is, should a 10/11 year old kid really get turned into a beast because he won’t let a strange old lady into his house in the dead of night? I dunno man. In any case, he certainly learned his lesson, huh?
What I love most about this character is that he actually takes the risk, after so many years alone, of letting someone in (literally and metaphorically), and when he does, he ends up finding real happiness. The story is slightly complicated in that you can understand why the townsfolk are scared of Beast, but at the same time, after getting to know him through his budding relationship with Belle, the way he’s misunderstood doesn’t seem altogether fair, especially with douchey Gaston as his beloved opposite.
It’s another one of those “never judge a book by its cover” stories, and a damn good one at that. It teaches us that underneath every shouty, hairy beast with an amazing library is a hot guy with a castle and a lotta money. Isn’t that the greatest lesson of all?
2. The Beast, Over the Garden Wall
Here’s a purely malevolent monster for ya. Over the Garden Wall was a special miniseries that ran on Cartoon Network briefly. 10 episodes, each around 10 minutes long (give or take). OtGW follows a pair of brothers, Greg & Wirt, who get lost on Halloween night and need to find their way home. They end up in this crazy world where animals go to school, dead people dress up in pumpkin suits after they’ve become skeletons, and evil lurks around every corner. The Beast is the most feared and evil creature of all. A woodsman is forced into the employ of The Beast, gathering special wood from a special forest. The branches he collects are turned into a unique oil which fuels a magic lantern, a lantern the woodsman thinks contains his daughter’s soul, and which he thus protects at all costs. The wood the oil is made from is actually grown from captured human beings who’ve become trees. But the lantern, which The Beast warns must never go out if the woodsman wants to keep his daughter safe, doesn’t contain the soul of the woodsman’s daughter after all — it contains The Beast’s soul. Turns out he’d tricked the woodsman into keeping him alive.
This isn’t one of those beasts that is portrayed as “misunderstood” in a way that begs sympathy. This beast is deceitful, and causes others pain on purpose. There is, however, a lot left unsaid about him. You never learn his origin, how his soul came to be in that lantern, anything. He’s simply a baleful presence whose influence seems to extend endlessly. He also sings opera. You only ever see him as a silhouette with glowing eyes until the very end, when the woodsman learns the truth and shines the lantern on him.
There is something we misunderstand about The Beast until the final episode that links him to the rest of us: he feels fear. Specifically, a fear of death. The reason why he tricked the woodsman into capturing all those people and turning them into lantern oil in the first place was simply because he wanted to stay alive. Everybody’s afraid of something, amirite?
3. Dorian Gray, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
This one you probably remember from high school. The Picture of Dorian Gray is about a young man who is the object of an artist’s infatuation. The artist paints a portrait of Dorian that completely captures the way the artist views him, i.e. perfection. As Dorian becomes more and more depraved, the Dorian in the painting grows more ghastly, a representation of the real Dorian’s horrific nature, while Dorian Gray himself remains ageless and perfect as a painting — his wish come true. Dorian Gray is one of my favorite literary villains of all time. I couldn’t believe how terrifying he became. And of course this story has one of the best, most inimitable endings ever: Dorian stabs his portrait self in the heart, but with the destruction of the painting comes the sudden rapid aging of the real Dorian Gray, who is found bearing the mortal wound he inflicted on the painting. The portrait on the other hand returns to its original state of beauty.
I haven’t read this story in years, but I remember enough to say with confidence that calling Dorian a shit is probably the understatement of the century. That guy is on another level. Certainly beastly. But it’s his desire for absolution that ultimately leads to his death. I really need to reread that one.
What/who is your favorite beast?