The Myth of the Lonely Monster

The MONSTERS of classic horror stories were loners. Dracula awakened each night in his isolated castle. Frankenstein, in Mary Shelley’s original, tried very hard to be accepted in human society but was rejected for his ugliness and his unnatural origins. The classic werewolf movies, starring Lon Chaney Jr., always emphasized his tortured nature. Becoming a werewolf was the result of a curse. The survivors of werewolf attacks fell victim to that curse at the rise of the next full moon.

It was all very sad and very lonely.

The myth of the lonely monster seems to be a thing of the past. In general, today’s paranormal romances, urban fantasies and supernatural stories, are “peopled” with very social creatures. I’ve read books set in demonic nightclubs, vampire television studios and haunted detective agencies.

This has led to two fundamental changes in the mythology of monsters: one, monsters are much more likely to live in groups, and, two, monsters are BORN as often as made. Growing up on classic monsters, I was very surprised to find so many altered mythologies — even vampires with biological clocks ticking toward baby making. I’m not a stickler about the rules — after all this is the kind of rule made to be broken — I’m just surprised by the number of “humanizing” variations on the theme.

Some of this simply lends itself to more and better storytelling opportunities — as groups provide fodder for romance, competition and conflict. So the rise of social monsters is great for readers and writers. I’m particularly fond of the pack of attractive werewolves in the “True Blood” series of books, by Charlaine Harris, and on TV — a lone wolf in the Lon Chaney incarnation is nowhere as much fun.

Prefer your vampires in a lonely mausoleum or at a cocktail party? How about living the undead highlife next door? Post a comment and tell me what you think.


  1. The choices seem to be between retreading old ground, making the monsters more monstrous, or making them somewhat more human–that is to say, complex. I don’t think we have any choice but to move in the direction of the more social, guy/girl/corpse-next-door paradigm. Of course, the question becomes, “Where to we go from here?”

    Are we on the verge of a post-classical modern monster revival?

    • Candy

      Post-Classical Modern Monster Revival! I like it….
      It’s true, the story possibilities open up when Vampires fall in love, and lust, as opposed to simply feeding and when werewolves mate and produce more werewolves (like humans), then, the dated gypsy curse gambit from the old movies is replaced by contemporary DNA. Science dancing with magic — makes for more fun.

  2. I love the idea of monsters evolving that way. Maybe the next incarnation of vampires etc will include world domination. Oh wait, that’s been done. 🙁

    • Candy

      Guessing that the True Blood TV show is bounding toward world domination, even before the vampires get going on it. I’ll admit to be a fan of the show and to having read a couple of the books — the two are different animals as far as I’m concerned.

      Off to the dentist. No fangs to speak of, but taking care of my human-sized teeth!

  3. The more we humanize the monsters our minds dream up, the less scary they seem to be. All people have their own hidden monsters, writers and the trend in movies to make them more human also allows us to face our hidden monsters whether they were the ones from our childhood or those we face as adults. I personally like them becoming more human because it opens up more possibilities in stories we write.

  4. Marvelous ponderings, Candy! It does look like our monsters are becoming more complex, and that is more interesting than the old, cardboard, bad-guy-loner thing. At the same time, I really love the old mythologies, fairy and folktales where the monsters orginated. They held messages for us, pointing deep into the human psyche where there are lots of creepy shadows with information for us, if we are willing to look. Monsters that are only ordinary humans with a super-power or two can be fun, but they may miss some of the deeper issues at play…

    • Candy

      Thank you for you insightful comment.

      I too, like the “humanizing” but I also want to keep some MONSTROUS characteristics, too. Deep down inside us all some kind of monster — or monstrous thoughts — lurk. The classic stories gave a solid body to those inclinations. Now there are sometimes limited differences between an “ordinary” serial killer and a MONSTER. I want there to be more to it, more supernatural, more… something special. Just so there really is something about being human.

      On the other hand, those “ordinary” killers may hold insights into our darkest inclinations. And that makes excellent story fodder, too.

  5. I prefer literary monsters to retain their darker aspects. The way they are increasingly humanized undoubtedly says a lot about where society currently stands on many issues. I suppose someone somewhere is actually putting the effort into really researching the evolution of the monster in literature. Maybe someday I will go down that research avenue as well.

    • Candy

      My research is a bit unsystematic — more meandering around the various genres, but it’s true the evolution is toward creature monsters that are more human and human monsters (i.e. serial killers) that are less and less “human.”

      Darkness of different stripes is also a good measure of what we fear. The 3rd in my Monster series is inspired by Poe. His monsters were human and driven by extreme versions of experiences and emotions that humans share. Revenge, paranoia, rage…. all very Poe-ish and very human. The idea of darkness within and that there is a kind of darkness that is, truly, inhuman is intriguing and I want to know more about it.

      Thanks for you insightful comment.

  6. I don’t see why classic monsters can’t have more complex relationships. What if we simply included them in the hierarchy of relationships of animals on Earth? Imagine a being with the morality of a shark, the strength of a tiger and surrounded by what it would have once upon a time considered sheep, and now has to have a different relationship because technology has equaled the playing field a bit. I think we can still have monsters, but we need to understand as we have grown more complex, so should our relationships with “things that go bump in the night.”

    I have written a tale of Humanity and the Vampyr, a symbiotic relationship forced into existence by a plague that threatens all of Humanity. The Vampyr are forced to reveal themselves when it appears clear Human science isn’t up to the task and time is running out. Humanity reacts with horror as they learn, they are prey and yet are dependent upon the Vampyr to help them discover the cure to the Great Wasting. Both groups are hostile to each other, both keep terrible secrets and unless they work together, they will all be dead in less than a decade. The Vampyr are still monsters, they are not a uniform social group and while many are willing to engage in the project, others more nihilistic have decided to feast while the feasting is good… You can read chapter one of Red Star, White Sun at Enjoy!

    • Candy

      Love your description of a monster having the morality of a shark, the strength of a tiger and surrounded by sheep — very apt for a vampire.

      You book concept sound very cool, too!